Pennsylvania to be One of the Biggest Battlegrounds for Abortion Rights in Coming Year

Women's rights advocates demonstrate against recent abortion bans, Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By Ashley Adams

April 8, 2022

If the US Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, the decision on abortion rights will be determined at the state level. In Pennsylvania, what exactly that means might just come down to who is elected in November.

Pennsylvania could become one of the biggest battlegrounds for reproductive rights this year if the US Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

The majority-GOP state Legislature has repeatedly pushed legislation that would limit access to abortion care. Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto pen has been the last line of defense in the fight for reproductive rights in the commonwealth.

But, as Wolf nears his term limit, the door to the governor’s house in Harrisburg is wide open.

If a Republican wins back the governor’s seat, they stand a better chance of enacting conservative policies that would restrict reproductive rights.

“In Pennsylvania, we have for a while had a very hostile anti-abortion legislature, when it comes to specifically reproductive and sexual healthcare,” said Lindsey Mauldin, vice president of Advocacy and Public Policy at Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania. “But what we’re seeing now is really a boldened attempt to chip away at abortion access from a number of different aspects.”

How Could Roe v. Wade Be Overturned?

Roe v. Wade guaranteed the right to an abortion, invalidating dozens of state abortion bans that were in place at the time. However, many states never passed their own laws affirming the right to an abortion.

In December 2021, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to a Mississippi law that bans abortions at 15 weeks. The case is the most serious challenge to the Roe vs. Wade ruling to date. 

With a decision in the Mississippi case expected in June, it appears likely that the conservative majority of the high court will allow states to severely restrict or ban abortions altogether.

If the court overturns Roe v. Wade, each state will be able to set its own laws regarding access to abortion care. Fifteen states already have passed legislation protecting access to abortion care, while 14 states have limits set to take effect if the court overturns Roe v. Wade. Pennsylvania is one of several states where abortion remains legal, but state legislators want to limit it. 

Most Pennsylvanians Support Abortion Rights

Even as the Republican-run state Legislature attempts to restrict reproductive rights, a majority of voters do not support such bills.

A poll by Franklin & Marshall in October 2020 showed that 83% of state residents believe abortion should be legal in all or certain cases.

Two in three likely voters in the US—including nearly half of Republicans—believe the government “should not interfere in reproductive rights” and that families and individuals should have control over their reproductive decisions, according to a new Courier Newsroom/Data for Progress poll. Conversely, only 28% of respondents believe the government should be able to make decisions about reproductive rights.

The survey of 1,193 likely voters also found that most Americans remain broadly unaware that a woman’s constitutional right to abortion is at risk of being taken away by Republicans.

About 73% of likely voters have heard little or nothing at all about the case before the Supreme Court, according to the poll. 

When they do hear about it though, they oppose it. Fifty-one percent of voters said they oppose the Court overturning or weakening Roe, while only 39% said they support such an action. 

The poll also found that 61% of likely voters, including six in 10 independents and nearly half of Republicans, would be very or somewhat concerned about the Court  taking away access to safe and legal abortion.

Republican Efforts to Limit Access to Abortion Care in PA

Last year, states enacted more than 100 abortion restrictions. While GOP lawmakers in Pennsylvania attempted to pass similar restrictions, Wolf used his veto power to stop five anti-abortion bills from becoming law.

So far in 2022, state legislators have introduced a Republican-authored amendment stating there is no constitutional right to an abortion and a bill attempting to take family planning funding away from abortion providers. Both are in the state Senate awaiting a vote.

PA Governor Race Could Be Deciding Factor

The future of reproductive rights in the state will probably come down to one deciding factor — who wins the governor race in November.

Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro, who faces no opposition in the upcoming primary election, has been a vocal supporter of reproductive rights; he has made it clear that, as governor, he would veto any attempt to limit those rights.

On the other side of the aisle, the list of Republicans who have announced their candidacy for governor and have filed to appear on the ballot in the May primary is in the double digits. All of the potential Republican nominees support restricting reproductive rights in some way.

Candidates such as Joe Gale, Charlie Gerow, Bill McSwain, and Sen. Doug Mastriano said they would support legislation that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Mastriano, in fact, introduced a bill in 2021 that would ban abortions roughly six weeks into a pregnancy. Wolf vetoed it.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, who is also vying for the Republican nomination for governor, has supported legislation restricting access to abortion care in Pennsylvania but has not said whether he would sign such a bill into law if elected governor.

Author

  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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