How a Grandma Got Involved in Pennsylvania’s Abortion Debate

Rep. Kathy Rapp says she's not politically ambitious, but the Times is on line one.

Raised before Title IX, State Rep. Kathy Rapp started sports in her 20s. Rapp, who is a Republican representing a district in northwestern Pennsylvania, introduced PA House Bill 1077, which requires women receive pre-abortion transvaginal ultrasounds. You’ve probably already formed your opinion of her.

In case you didn’t: The youngest of six, Rapp grew up in Clarion County watching her mother care for her physically disabled sister. Her dad died when she was 13. She relied on faith to help her through. In her 20s, she developed a hobby of running and playing basketball.

“People aren’t always nice to people with disabilities,” Rapp says. “I learned to be an advocate because of my mother, who taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all—a good lesson for politics.”

She entered politics in 2004. A graduate of Bryant & Stratton College’s School of Business, she worked as an advocate for children with disabilities from 1986 until 1991, including employment with the Parent Education Network. Later, she worked in the health care industry. Special education was her cause. She has no political ambition.

“I didn’t realize it would be quite so negative or that critics would compare the transvaginal practice to rape,” she says, pausing. “You know, I live in rural Pennsylvania. I’m just a regular person. I’ll probably just serve two or three more terms and then—well, I’m at the age where I could retire and enjoy my grandchildren.”

So why then would a Warren County grandmother inject such controversial legislation into Pennsylvania’s political consciousness? Put simply, she was asked.

Last January, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) approached Rapp during a regular session day in Harrisburg’s Capital Rotunda. Similar legislation was making its way through Virginia and Texas. There hadn’t been a pro-life Pennsylvania governor in more than a decade. This was the opportunity.

“I’m not trying to be judgmental with this piece of legislation—and I don’t judge anyone who makes that choice to have an abortion,” Rapp says. “But I don’t believe that women have all the information they need to make a decision that will impact the rest of their lives.”

She recites the anti-abortion (pro-life, call it what you wish) talking points with ease: Fifty million American abortions since 1973; 37,000 Pennsylvania abortions last year alone; her bill is “basically already standard practice” in the state’s Planned Parenthood facilities, since ultrasounds are the best way to “determine a child’s age.”

What she didn’t know was that she’d become Pennsylvania’s pro-life/anti-choice poster woman. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and even BBC reporters want interviews about abortion at a time when Pennsylvania’s economy, well, sucks. “We multitask. We don’t handle one issue at a time,” she says.

To be fair, I’ll offer my abortion stance (though the timing is a bit earlier than I’d anticipated). Growing up, I watched Mom play Maureen Dowd to Dad’s Bill O’Reilly. Dinner debates were political, not familiar—say, dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. As a church-going Irish/Italian Catholic, I’m a mamma’s boy by default. A reading from the book of mom: Dudes shall not opine on mechanics they don’t operate. You might disagree with her driving skills, bro, but she owns her car.

Apparently, Tarzai agrees. Why else wouldn’t he write the bill instead of driving Rapp onto Pennsylvania’s front pages? Because these days, Barack Obama says we cling to guns and Bibles while Rick Santorum pukes on separation of church and state. Bill Maher calls Sarah Palin a c*nt while Rush Limbaugh calls Sandra Fluke a slut.

“I haven’t listened to Rush Limbaugh in ages,” Rapp says.

No one should. Instead, listen to Rapp’s mother. It’s madness. Politicos recycle plastic debates to distract from more important ones—say, the economy. Forget the kitchen sink, they chucked a garbage disposal onto an increasingly unleveled playing field.

And Tarzai checked a Warren County grandmother into the game. She’s yet to break a sweat—a testament to her religious upbringing? Maybe. Or—perhaps—her utter oblivion to the artificial turf she now plays upon.

It’s March Madness, but we’ll know the score in November.