Graphic by Desiree Tapia
Graphic by Desiree Tapia

The future of reproductive freedom in Pennsylvania hinges on November’s races for governor and US Senate between pro-choice Democrats and anti-abortion Republicans. With just two weeks to go until Election Day, a new poll finds that a majority of voters in the commonwealth believe pro-choice lawmakers are standing up for individual freedom more than anti-abortion lawmakers.

It was her first semester of college. Audrey Wrobel, who was still new to taking birth control pills daily, was worried she was pregnant after missing a few doses. Rather than risk her mom finding out, the 18-year-old freshman took a pregnancy test in a Weis Markets grocery store bathroom in Pennsylvania.

It came back positive. 

Right away, Wrobel knew what she would do. Neither she nor her partner at the time were ready to be parents. She was a college student with no job who was just starting to find her bearings in the world.

“I had a lot of dreams and aspirations, and parenting, at that time, was not one of them—for either of us,” Wrobel said.

It was 2015, seven years before the US Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, stripping women of the constitutional right to abortion. Wrobel was able to make a decision that she felt was right for her. 

To begin the process of obtaining an abortion, Wrobel went to a reproductive healthcare center near her home. She endured Pennsylvania’s state-mandated counseling—a requirement in which providers must inform patients about the procedure—which is often criticized by supporters of reproductive freedom for being rife with misleading information designed to discourage abortions.

“I had to watch a video—which I remember being really disturbing—talking about what I would experience, showing me images,” Wrobel said.

The 18-year-old was then told she could not have her abortion that day; state law required her to wait 24 hours after receiving the “counseling.” Because the center she went to did not provide abortion services, Wrobel would also have to travel 90 minutes to another clinic in Pennsylvania. 

[Editor’s note: In order to protect Audrey Wrobel’s privacy, we’ve removed specific identifying information about locations in Pennsylvania.]

It took her a few weeks to get an appointment for a medication abortion, a process that involves the use of two different medications that can be taken at home, and she ended up going alone. Her boyfriend was too anxious to accompany her for support, she said, and she chose to go when her mother happened to be away for the weekend.

Thankfully, the staff at the clinic was “really kind and reassuring,” Wrobel said. They also helped connect her to a program that dramatically reduced the cost of her care.

It would be a few years before Wrobel shared her story with her mom or anyone else. She felt guilty at the time because of the politics and religious messaging surrounding abortion, she said, even though she was “very, very confident” about her decision. 

Wrobel, who’s now 26 and no longer with that partner, knows her life would look completely different today if the option to seek abortion care had not been available to her. 

“I truly don’t think I would have been able to finish school. Parenting is a full-time job,” she said. 

Instead, Wrobel was ultimately able to get her Master’s degree and now works as a social worker at a women’s hospital in Pennsylvania. There, she occasionally counsels women who find themselves in similar situations as the one she found herself in at age 18. 

Wrobel firmly believes that her choice—and the choice of millions of other women who seek abortion care—is a healthcare issue, not a political one. 

Women should have control over their own bodies, she continued, and the freedom to make their own choices about if and when to have a baby without government interference. It’s a stance that reflects the majority opinion in the commonwealth. 

In fact, a new poll suggests that voters in Pennsylvania are both overwhelmingly supportive of abortion rights and believe pro-choice lawmakers are standing up for individual freedom more than anti-abortion lawmakers. 

Fifty-eight percent of Pennsylvania voters said they believe lawmakers who want to keep abortion legal are standing up for Pennsylvanians’ right to individual freedom, according to a new Courier Newsroom/Data for Progress poll of 2,517 voters in Pennsylvania. In contrast, only 30% of voters said lawmakers who want to ban abortion are standing up for individual freedom.

The survey also found that 60% of voters believe abortion should be legal under most circumstances, while only 32% believe it should be illegal in most cases. Abortion currently remains legal in Pennsylvania through 23 weeks, and after that if the woman’s life or health is in danger. 

Victoria Snyder, a 36-year-old mom in Baden, echoed Wrobel’s stance.

“As a woman, it’s really about the right to my body, the right to my choice. No matter what my decision would be, one way or another, I deserve to have the right to make that decision,” Snyder said. “Nobody else, not a lawmaker, not someone sitting in Washington or sitting in Harrisburg should get to decide what I get to do with my own body.”

This notion-–that the government can overrule a woman and control what they do with their body—was also deeply troubling to Ashley Renee Jones, a 31-year-old Reading resident. 

“What’s worse than not having control of your own body and your choices?” Jones asked. 

November’s Elections Will Decide the Future of Abortion Access in Pennsylvania

Republicans control the state legislature in Harrisburg and have made clear this year that they want to severely restrict abortion access in the commonwealth, introducing a constitutional amendment that could make it easier for them to bypass a Democratic governor’s veto pen to limit abortion care.

The party’s nominee for governor, far-right state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), has said “‘my body, my choice’ is ridiculous nonsense,” compared abortion to slavery and the Holocaust, and pushed for a six-week abortion ban, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Mastriano’s even said that women who violate his proposed ban should be charged with murder. 

Mastriano’s proposed legislation is wildly unpopular, with 75% of Pennsylvanians opposing a six-week ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother, according to the new Courier Newsroom/Data for Progress poll.

Instead, Pennsylvania voters want the state’s abortion laws to remain as they are, with 58% supporting keeping existing laws on the books. 

Mastriano faces off against Democrat and current Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in November. Shapiro, a pro-choice candidate who has vowed to protect abortion rights, recently referred to Mastriano as “the most dangerous and extreme candidate ever to run for governor in Pennsylvania.”

Shapiro’s defense of abortion rights has been echoed by John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for US Senate in Pennsylvania. Fetterman has vowed to do everything he can to restore women’s reproductive freedom at the national level, even if it means eliminating the filibuster to restore the rights previously guaranteed under Roe v. Wade

“Deciding how and when to become a mother is a decision that should always be made by a woman and her doctor—not politicians,” Fetterman says on his website

Fetterman’s defense of reproductive freedom drew praise from Snyder, the mom in Baden. 

“I’m Fetterman all the way,” she said. “I know where Fetterman stands. He stands for my body, he stands for the right for me to make a choice.”

In contrast, Fetterman’s opponent, Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz, broadly opposes abortion rights, though he’s been slippery on the issue. Oz has said he believes abortion should be illegal, except in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother, but he’s also compared abortion to murder. He’s said he believes abortion laws should be left up to the states but has also avoided answering questions about how he’d vote on Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proposed national abortion ban after 15 weeks.  

“I think Dr. Oz is a fraud, and they should probably pull his ability to practice any kind of medicine … The first duty of a doctor is to do no harm. That is the oath, and him coming from New Jersey to try and manage people in Pennsylvania is also concerning,” Jones said. “Why are you coming to Pennsylvania and oppressing people?”

Shapiro and Fetterman’s pro-choice stances, on the other hand, are ones that she is grateful for.

“As a woman, I appreciate having a man advocate for my womanhood,” Jones said.

Despite the unpopularity of this position, if Mastriano wins and Republicans retain control of the legislature, they could pass a six-week ban, effectively outlawing abortion in Pennsylvania at a point before many women even know they’re pregnant.

If Oz wins and Republicans win back unanimous control of the federal government in 2024, he could vote to ban abortion nationwide. 

Pennsylvanians Are Worried About the Future of Abortion Access

What would a Pennsylvania without abortion access look like?

It’s a possibility Wrobel is worried about. “Banning abortion doesn’t mean banning abortion. It just means banning safe ones,” she said.

A Pennsylvania without abortion means the next generation of Audrey Wrobels might not have the freedom to make the choice she made, or to have a choice at all. That possibility is what scares Brian Reese, a father from Clarks Summit.

“I have a six-year-old daughter who I’m terrified is going to grow up in a country where she’s not going to have access to the kind of care she might need somewhere down the road,” Reese told The Keystone.

In that scenario, there would be tens of thousands of Pennsylvania women whom the government would force to give birth each year against their will. They would have no choice in the matter—a possibility that Wrobel finds terrifying. 

“I got pregnant at 18, and I made the choice to not parent,” she said. “I know many young women who have kids around that time, and they are great parents and they are able to achieve what they want to do. But it’s such a personal choice, and putting restrictions and being told what I can and can’t do with my body is just absolutely ridiculous.”