Even before the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, finding good health care options as an LGBTQ person has been challenging due to a lack of educated medical staff and, for many, the lack of resources to utilize them, such as stable housing and income.
The most recent Pennsylvania LGBTQ Health Needs Assessment, which was conducted by the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Public Health Management Corporation, showed that 35% of LGBTQ people believe their health care providers do not have adequate expertise to address their health needs.
In addition, a 2021 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that LGBTQ people face higher rates of food insecurity and have difficulty paying for basic household expenses, which poses a particular danger to pregnant people.
Advocates also point out that the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling, which overturned Roe, places even more roadblocks for LGBTQ people looking to start a family, as well as for existing LGBTQ health issues, including finding affirming health care and dealing with overly complicated insurance policies.
Michael Galvan, who serves on the board of Philadelphia Family Pride, and has an elementary-age child, said Roe’s reversal will “ensure that families who can get pregnant would immediately lose bodily autonomy to decide if and when they are ready to start a family, and would be further complicated by a healthcare system that still largely operates within a gender binary.”
Galvan also said that while the Supreme Court may view adoption as an alternative to abortion, the adoption system is not welcoming to all families.
“According to the Movement Advancement Project [a research nonprofit studying equality], only about half of the states in the United States have enshrined adoption equality into law for LGBTQ+ families,” Galvan said, referring to research by explaining what the project is.
“In some states, it is still illegal for LGBTQ+ families to enter into the adoption process,” Galvan continued.
In light of the ruling, Galvan said organizations such as Philadelphia Family Pride are continuing their efforts to educate and support LGBTQ people and families.
“PFP will continue to provide a safe haven for parents, prospective parents, and individuals in the LGBTQ+ community looking to access information about family planning and affirming medical practices through educational events, peer-to-peer supports, and working to educate policymakers about the impact that Roe’s reversal will have on our families and community,” Galvan said.
La’Tasha Mayes, the Democratic nominee for western Pennsylvania’s 24th House District is the former president of New Voices for Reproductive Justice, a multi-state reproductive justice nonprofit with operations in Pennsylvania.
Mayes said that access to abortion care for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians is “extremely challenged” by the lack of a statewide sexual orientation and gender identity anti-discrimination law.
“This second-class citizenship rooted in homophobia, transphobia, and heteronormativity results in overt discrimination and exposes us to violence in every realm including health care within a medical system that was constructed in racism and misogynoir,” Mayes said, adding that not all people who need abortions are women.
“This is the biggest change I have seen in terms of how we talk about abortion access and this means we are imagining a new and gender-expansive vision for abortion care.”
With Roe gone, state lawmakers in Harrisburg are concerned about what the decision will mean for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians trying to access abortion care. Currently, abortion remains legal in Pennsylvania.
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), who is openly gay, called the toppling of Roe “one of the most profound challenges that the LGBTQ community has faced.”
Kenyatta, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, said he was specifically concerned about how overturning Roe will affect transgender and nonbinary individuals, who experience poverty at disproportionately high rates, according to 2019 data from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Collectively, LGBTQ people have a poverty rate of 21.6%, according to UCLA data. However, transgender people have a poverty rate of 29.4%.
The data also found that 17.6% of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians experienced poverty compared to 12% of cisgender, heterosexual Pennsylvanians.
“This becomes yet another anchor weighing down peoples’ ability to live whole, healthy and free lives,” Kenyatta, who has called for expanding the U.S. Supreme Court, said.
Similarly, Rep. Jessica Benham (D-Allegheny) said the SCOTUS decision to overturn the 49-year-old landmark ruling will make it more difficult for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians to access abortion care as well as reproductive care such as assisted reproductive technologies, including IVF.
“It’s already difficult for LGBTQ people to find health care broadly, but also abortion care specifically that is respectful and affirming, and safe and so the overturning of Roe v. Wade will make it even more difficult for LGBTQ people to get the care that they deserve,” Benham, who was the first out LGBTQ woman elected to the state Legislature, said.
Despite their concern, Benham and Kenyatta said House Democrats, being the minority party, have little control of what happens in Harrisburg.
There are currently 19 reproductive health-related bills before the Republican-controlled General Assembly. But without GOP support, the bills that look to expand and protect access to abortion care have little chance of making it to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk.
“The difficulty, of course, is whether or not the majority party is interested in any of those bills moving forward,” Benham said.
She said that based on her experiences, Republicans on the House Health Committee, which is tasked with taking up health care-related legislation, “are not terribly interested in protecting reproductive rights.”
“We have no ability to move legislation,” Benham said, noting that the committee chairperson dictates what bills come up for committee vote and the majority party controls what bills get scheduled for a floor vote.
The House panel’s chairperson, Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren), is one of the Legislature’s most vocal abortion opponents.
With that in mind, Benham said people who want to see protections for reproductive rights and health care need to “target Republican leadership to encourage them to move these bills.”
In addition to targeting the Legislature, LGBTQ advocates and organizations throughout Pennsylvania, including the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, stressed the importance of November’s gubernatorial election — between Democrat Josh Shapiro and Republican Doug Mastriano — for reproductive rights in the state.
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision undermines the health and safety of LGBTQ+ people, and while Pennsylvania currently safeguards reproductive rights, the future is dangerously unclear,” Bradbury-Sullivan said in a statement. “We thank Governor Tom Wolf for his vocal and steadfast support of LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights, but we are increasingly mindful that the commonwealth will have new leadership in a matter of months.”
Kenyatta also stressed that keeping the gubernatorial veto pen in the hands of a Democrat in November is important, as well as Democrats’ ability to win state House elections.
“It is incumbent upon us to talk about what’s at stake,” Kenyatta said. “We’re going to do what we must do to protect those rights in Pennsylvania.”
Cassie Miller is an associate editor at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared. Jason Villemez is the editor of the Philadelphia Gay News.