Abortion Rights are on the ballot in PA’s Supreme Court race this November

Reproductive Rights supporter holding a Planned Parenthood sign in front of the Pennsylvania Capitol on Oct. 2, 2021. (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

August 28, 2023

A victory by Daniel McCaffery—who has pledged to protect “women’s reproductive rights”—would provide additional security for reproductive rights advocates in Pennsylvania heading into 2025, when three Democratic-held seats on the Court are up for election.

Pennsylvania’s upcoming state supreme court election is a pivotal moment for preserving reproductive rights in the commonwealth for years to come, and it has caught the attention of advocates following key victories in Wisconsin and Ohio. Pennsylvania is the only state in the country with a supreme court seat up for election this November.

Last April, liberals were able to flip control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, a result that could lead to the restoration of abortion rights in that state. Earlier this month in Ohio, voters were able to defeat Issue 1, which would have made it harder for reproductive rights advocates to enshrine abortion rights in the state’s constitution. Now, Ohio voters will decide in November whether to protect the right to abortion under their state constitution.

Both of these victories were key to protecting reproductive freedom in their respective states and provided further evidence that voters, even in purple and red states, broadly support abortion rights.

“I think when we’re talking about continuing to mobilize in this moment, we knew that the midterms made very clear what we’ve been screaming from the rooftops, and that is whenever abortion is on the ballot, it will win,” said Signe Espinoza, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates. “That’s exactly what we saw out of our friends in Ohio.”

Espinoza and other advocates are now looking towards the race between Democrat Daniel McCaffery and Republican Carolyn Carluccio for a seat on Pennsylvania’s highest court as the next key fight in the battle over abortion rights.

Abortion currently remains legal up to 24 weeks in Pennsylvania, and Gov. Josh Shapiro has vowed to defend reproductive freedom, but power changes hands often in Pennsylvania and the state Supreme Court offers a line of last defense against Republicans who might seek to ban abortion after Shapiro leaves the governor’s mansion.

Following the death of Chief Justice Max Baer last September, Democrats currently hold a 4-2 majority on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and regaining a 5-2 majority will make it harder for Republicans to flip the court in the coming years.

There are three Democrats up for retention votes in 2025, and one of those Democrats will turn 75 in 2027 and will have to step down from the court.

A victory by McCaffery—who has pledged to protect “women’s reproductive rights” and believes the question of abortion is an issue “best decided between a woman, her conscience and her doctor”—would provide additional security for reproductive rights supporters in Pennsylvania heading into 2025.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which fights to preserve reproductive rights on the national level, launched a six-figure ad campaign earlier this month reminding voters that Carluccio scrubbed anti-abortion views from her campaign website.

The Keystone reported in May that Carluccio deleted her anti-abortion resume, which stated that she would be a “Defender of 2nd Amendment Rights and All Life Under the Law.” Carluccio also sought the endorsement of the Pro-Life Federation, which advocates for total bans on abortion.

“I can’t stress enough that our supporters and Pennsylvania voters are not to be fooled and are very smart and know who they can trust. And that’s part of the work that we’re going to be doing leading to November, is making sure that folks know that this is a candidate that can’t be trusted,” Espinoza said. “This is the candidate who is not going to have our best interest on the highest court in our state and doesn’t deserve the place on the court.”

Kelly Davis, the former executive director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice, an organization focused on improving the health and wellbeing of Black and LGBTQ people, underscored the urgency of continuing to fight for bodily autonomy and reproductive rights, even when those rights might feel secure.

“It is a 365-day, 24/7 strategy to make sure that folks understand that their bodies are on the ballot and what’s at stake for them and how the structure of the government is really embedded with several forms of oppression that really impact the day-to-day effects of their life,” Davis Said.



  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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