The Lead

Wolf asks Commonwealth Court to declare proposed amendments, including abortion ban, unconstitutional

By: - September 26, 2022 4:55 pm

Democratic lawmakers and abortion rights advocates rally on the Pennsylvania Capitol steps on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. (Capital-Star photo)

Gov. Tom Wolf has renewed an effort to have a state court declare a package of proposed changes to the Pennsylvania Constitution – including one that would revoke the right to abortion and another to raise the voting age to 21 – unconstitutional.

About two weeks after the state Supreme Court declined to invoke its King’s Bench power to hear the challenge, Wolf refiled the case Friday in Commonwealth Court. 

The General Assembly passed the legislation, SB106, in July as it worked to approve an overdue state budget. The final vote in the state House came late in the evening of July 8 and was the chamber’s last action before its summer recess.

In addition to an amendment stating that the state constitution does not grant a right to “taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right relating to abortion,” the legislation proposed other changes to the constitution regarding elections, the office of lieutenant governor, voter identification, election audits, and the General Assembly’s disapproval of regulations.

To pass constitutional amendments, the General Assembly must vote on proposed changes twice in consecutive sessions before proposals are presented to voters. 

If the bill is approved in the General Assembly in the next session, the proposed amendments could appear on the spring 2023 primary election ballot.

Wolf argues the legislation fails to pass constitutional muster because it includes proposed amendments on several subjects approved with a single vote by lawmakers. This deprives voters of the ability to know how their representatives voted on each proposed change.

By failing to take and record separate votes on each topic, the General Assembly violated the constitutional provision designed to help voters decide whether incumbent lawmakers should be re-elected.

Wolf argues that the proposal to amend the constitution to foreclose the right to taxpayer-funded abortion or to any other right relating to abortion violates the constitutional requirement that proposals for distinct changes be presented to voters separately.

The suit argues that the amendment package would impermissibly annul the right to liberty, the pursuit of happiness and privacy, which includes the right to control one’s body.

The suit also argues the proposed amendment to raise the voting age to 21 and require a person to live in their voting district for 90 days before an election violates the 26th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Finally, Wolf argues that the proposed amendments are unconstitutional because they would alter other parts of the constitution without putting each before voters for approval.

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.