Gov. Tom Wolf is standing firm behind his pick to head Pennsylvania’s Department of State, saying the claims linking acting Secretary Pedro Cortés to a convicted doctor’s “house of horrors” abortion clinic are baseless.
House and Senate Republicans who oppose abortion rights have sent Wolf a letter, calling Cortés’ nomination “deeply troubling.” The nominee ran DOS from 2003 to 2010, when licensing investigators failed to pursue complaints about Kermit Gosnell, the doctor now in prison for killing three babies at his West Philadelphia abortion clinic.
“[I]t is clear that the Secretary of the Commonwealth is ultimately responsible for any accomplishments or failures which occur under his watch,” the letter reads. Signatories include House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati.
Wolf said the lawmakers are misinformed about Cortés’ ability to intervene in licensing investigations by his department.
“They’re saying that he had something that he could have done in the Gosnell case, and he didn’t,” said Wolf. “The truth is, he was legally prohibited from doing anything.”
At a recent hearing before Senate lawmakers, Cortés said overseeing agency prosecutors himself and intervening in license investigations would have violated due process rights of professional license-holders. He has also said that communications problems among state agencies have been addressed.
It’s unclear whether the link to the Gosnell case could threaten the acting secretary’s confirmation. Cortés will need a simple majority vote of the GOP-controlled Senate to be approved. Eleven Republican senators signed the letter indicating their concerns. The Senate Democratic leader said he knew of no opposition to Cortés in his caucus.