HARRISBURG, November 17, 2023 – Earlier this week, House Bill 507 passed the Pennsylvania House and Senate and now awaits Governor Shapiro’s signature to become law. The legislation, introduced by State Representatives Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia, and Liz Hanbidge, D-Montgomery, requires medical institutions to receive consent before performing a pelvic, prostate, or rectal exam on an anesthetized patient.
In Pennsylvania, medical students can legally perform these invasive exams on unconscious patients solely for training purposes. This unethical practice undermines patient-doctor relationships, which require a foundation of trust, respect, and transparency.
“House Bill 507 is such an important bill to protect patients’ right and to respect human dignity because no one’s body should be used for an invasive practice exam unless they consent to it,” said Senator Katie Muth, D-Chester/Montgomery/Berks. “We have tried to move this bill through the process for multiple sessions now and I am grateful that it is finally headed to the Governor’s desk.”
Earlier this session, companion legislation introduced by Senator Muth, Senate Bill 549, unanimously passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
“This year, we’ve seen millions of women and people across the country stand up for reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy,” said Fiedler. “It’s never been more important to empower patients to make decisions about their own bodies and lives. I am elated to see this bill pass, and I look forward to Governor Shapiro signing it into law.”
“When patients arrive at the hospital for surgeries or treatments that require anesthesia, they are understandably worried or anxious about the outcome of their procedure, rarely thinking that an unrelated internal and intimate exam by a medical student might be part of the process,” Hanbidge said. “House Bill 507 puts the power back in the hands of the patient, giving them the final say in the care they receive while under treatment. Rep. Fiedler and I have been working on this bill since we both joined the House in 2019 and I am pleased to finally see this critical bill for patient privacy go to Governor Shapiro for his signature.”
The practice was first brought to Fiedler’s attention by a constituent, Keren Sofer, who believes an exam was performed on her without her consent.
“Secrecy, lack of transparency, and the subsequent justification for it should never be a part of a person’s medical care,” Sofer said. “A patient’s explicit consent protects patients, doctors, and medical students. This is a practice which, despite being condemned by American professional medical associations, is shockingly still occurring across the Commonwealth. I’m grateful to the Senate for taking action. Requiring explicit consent is a common-sense step that will ensure that patients like me feel respected and empowered in their healthcare decisions.”
Amal Bass, co-executive director of Women’s Law Project, says the practice of nonconsensual exams is rooted in a long history of medical racism.
“We are grateful for the passage of HB 507,” she said. “Eliminating the heinous, paternalistic practice of nonconsensual pelvic exams in Pennsylvania is long overdue. This bill rids medical care of a racist and sexist practice and protects patient autonomy.”
The bill passed with unanimous support in the House and in the Senate. Fiedler credits its success to coalitional support from bipartisan legislators, medical professionals, and patient advocacy groups.
“The trust between patients and their medical providers is sacred, and this important legislation protects that relationship,” said House Health Chair Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny. “It will also give patients peace of mind and allow them to focus on the already stressful experience of getting a medical procedure, rather than have them worry about being subjected to unnecessary, invasive exams as they lay unconscious.”
“As Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, I was stunned to learn that medical students and institutions were able to perform these pelvic, rectal, or prostate on patients without their knowledge while under anesthesia for unrelated procedures,” “I would like to acknowledge the efforts of Representative Fiedler and her companion sponsors Senators Muth and Collett, in helping us bring an end to any such procedures happening to patients without their knowledge or permission.”
“Unauthorized pelvic exams are a gross violation of the privacy and autonomy of patients,” said Stefan Turkheimer, Vice President of Public Policy for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. “The solution is as simple as requiring a patient’s informed consent prior to the examination, which will prioritize the patient’s comfort, safety, and autonomy.”
A recent study found that 75% of medical students supported obtaining explicit consent for educational pelvic, prostate, rectal, and breast exams performed under anesthesia. Requiring consent will restore dignity to patients and integrity to medical professionals.
“As a nurse, I know just how critical it is that practitioners can learn how to administer care on actual patients – but that training should never come at the expense of a patient’s opportunity to provide consent,” said Senator Maria Collett, D-Montgomery, Minority Chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “This bill will close an archaic loophole in Pennsylvania, requiring medical students to obtain consent from patients undergoing anesthesia before conducting a pelvic, prostate or rectal exam for training purposes. As a proud prime sponsor of the Senate version of this bill, I’m thrilled to see it advance to the Governor’s desk for his signature.”
The Pennsylvania Coalition to Advance Respect expressed support for the bill.
“Nonconsensual physical contact in medical and all other situations can be deeply traumatizing,” they said. “Together we have moved one step closer to ending sexual violence.”
The passage of the bill comes at a crucial moment for bodily autonomy across the country, following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision and ongoing attempts to block access to medication used for abortions and miscarriage management.
Pennsylvania joins at least 20 states to ban nonconsensual pelvic exams. This is the first piece of legislation introduced by Fiedler to pass both chambers of the state legislature.