We Heart: Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims

“I’m not sure how I find myself in this room of all rooms as one of the men who respects women the most, but as is so often the case, I see that respect for the person and personal responsibility is clearly more of a slogan than a reality,” said Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims (D) Tuesday during his impassioned speech on behalf of women’s right to abortion coverage in their health insurance.

If you didn’t already know that Sims was the first openly gay member elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, in 2012, you might have guessed it from that remark. After all, shouldn’t it be the straight males in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, who care most about women’s reproductive health? But no: Those men helped pass House Bill 818, which would ban health plans set up in the state insurance marketplace (under the Affordable Care Act) from offering abortion coverage. Pennsylvania’s ACLU called it a “radical expansion of government interference” in the private insurance market. Said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:

This bill even prohibits insurance coverage of abortion when the woman’s health is at risk, such as with complications from cancer or diabetes. The House members who supported this bill are either hopelessly naïve about the realities of women’s health or exceptionally cruel. Either way, they have no business micromanaging women’s healthcare …

The Republican backers say the bill would prevent taxpayer dollars from being used for abortions—but it would also prevent women from using their own money to pay for insurance that covers abortion. And, of course, it would hurt most hurt poor women who could ill-afford to pay for the procedure without insurance.

“This legislation is about advancing an ideology of oppression and suppression, even if such a plan means ignoring the oath of office that each of us swore,” Sims said to colleagues. And then he pointed out the underlying theology behind the anti-abortion effort:

As a reminder, Mr. Speaker … each of us put our hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. We did not place our hands on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.

Thank you, Rep. Sims, for realizing the intersectionality among oppressions—whether it’s sexism, racism, classism or homophobia.

The bill now goes back to the Pennsylvania Senate. Hopefully there will be other legislators as brave and forthright as Brian Sims who will help stop it in its tracks and keep the promise of women’s full healthcare rights.


Melissa Kort teaches literature and composition at Santa Rosa (CA) Junior College. She writes on topics ranging from Charles Dickens and photography to women’s history.