Mayor Luke Ravenstahl makes no bones about his personal beliefs: He follows the teachings of the Catholic Church, and is pro-life. He does, however, object to a rumor about those beliefs that's been bouncing around Pittsburgh blogs and e-mail in-boxes. He also says -- and reproductive-health clinics confirm -- that he has enforced laws protecting abortion clinics from aggressive protesters.
In an e-mail widely circulated in the blogosphere, local activist Jeanne Clark characterized Ravenstahl as flip-flopping on his position regarding birth control.
"Earlier this month, one of my sister members of the 7th Ward Democratic committee told me of a conversation she had with Luke Ravenstahl when he requested her support," the e-mail reads. "[H]e informed her that he was not only against the Constitutional right to abortion, he was also against birth control."
In the e-mail, Clark contends Ravenstahl said he opposed contraception during a Feb. 4 phone conversation with a Democratic committeewoman, Mary Litman. But when Ravenstahl was challenged by another committeeperson about that position at a Feb. 22 meeting of the 14th Ward, he denied having discussed the matter, the email says.
"I feel that the 14th Ward committee members (and others, for that matter) should know that Ravenstahl lied in his presentation, which is why I'm writing this note," Clark's e-mail continues.
"Do we want a politician who blatantly lies?" Clark asked in an interview.
Ravenstahl's critics have seized on the charge, noting that while on city council, he voted against last year's "bubble zone" ordinance, which requires protesters at abortion clinics to keep 15 feet from the entrance. That vote, they warn, shows that Ravenstahl is willing to govern according to his pro-life beliefs.
Litman confirms that Ravenstahl called her on Feb. 4, and she asked him his stance on contraception and abortion rights. "He said, 'I follow the teachings of my church,'" Litman says. "I was so appalled by the conversation."
The mayor calls Clark's e-mail "unfortunate" and "misrepresenting."
"There was no private conversation," he said. In a telephone call with City Paper two days after Ravenstahl was interviewed, Ravenstahl campaign manager Damon Andrews asserted that in fact, "The mayor recalls having spoken to" Litman. The private conversation the mayor was denying, Andrews says, was another conversation falsely rumored to have taken place at a 7th Ward meeting.
Ravenstahl acknowledges declining to discuss the issue at the 14th Ward meeting. But he says his personal beliefs are beside the point: "I'm a pro-life Catholic, but I do certainly as mayor of Pittsburgh enforce the laws on the books." While he voted against the "bubble zone," he pledges to "support the ordinance as it was passed."
In fact, those who run the clinics say he has done precisely that. Kim Evert, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, says there's been no change in enforcement at her agency's Downtown clinic since Ravenstahl took office last year.
"We've experienced no problems with enforcement of the bubble zone," Evert says. The clinic has a consistent protester presence, but Evert says the bubble is well enforced and "has done what it's supposed to do."
Allegheny Reproductive Health Center in East Liberty also reports consistent enforcement. Protesters push the boundaries of what the ordinance allows, says director Claire Keyes, and that leads to confrontations between protesters and patients. But "[i]n terms of the mayor having any overt influence on differences in enforcement, I haven't seen any."
"My personal beliefs are what they are," Ravenstahl says. "The use of contraception is an individual right to choose. I would never challenge that. I have nothing against the use of contraceptives."