Advocates, Democrats energized by possibility of U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade

If the court overturns the landmark 1973 case, states will get to decide whether to ban or restrict abortion access

By: - May 4, 2022 10:13 am

Demonstrators protest outside the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 (Capital-Star photo).

Anna Tova Levin is not pro-abortion, and the procedure saved her life.

“In an ideal world, abortion would never be needed,” the 36-year-old mother of three and attorney told the Capital-Star on Tuesday. Rape and incest would not happen; people would have access to accurate information about pregnancy prevention and options for free birth control, she explained.

“But we don’t live in that ideal world,” Levin said hours after learning about the internal initial draft majority opinion striking down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed federal constitutional protections for abortion rights in 1973.

In 2017, Levin had a nontubal ectopic pregnancy, a rare and potentially life-threatening condition where an embryo implants outside the uterine cavity or fallopian tubes. After being diagnosed in Pennsylvania, she sought care at the Johns Hopkins Center for Fetal Therapy in Baltimore. Doctors presented her with a series of potential outcomes that ultimately came down to waiting to see how the pregnancy progressed or termination.

“I could theoretically carry the pregnancy to a point where it would be safe to deliver the baby, but it would have definitely had to be by C-section, and it would likely be very early,” she said. “Another possible outcome would be just a regular early miscarriage because my body could not sustain the pregnancy. And, of course, the scariest outcome would have been carrying the pregnancy until my body could no longer accommodate the growing fetus. And then, I would experience a uterine rupture that could threaten my life and the life of the baby.”

At the time, Levin’s eldest daughter was five-years-old. She didn’t want to leave her child without a mother or her husband without a wife. The couple consulted physicians, a rabbi, family, and friends before “coming to a really difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy.” A few weeks later, she underwent surgery to avoid getting pregnant in the same part of her body again.

Demonstrators stand outside the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg to protest the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (Capital-Star photo by Marley Parish)

Because she had a choice and could access a safe and legal abortion, Levin said she was able to recover, keep most of her uterus, be there for her oldest daughter, who is now nine-years-old, and have two more children.

Still, it was not — and never is — an easy decision, she said.

“Think about situations where women are raped or situations where there’s incest,” Levin said. “Women find themselves in situations where they’re pregnant, and they really cannot carry a pregnancy for some reason, whether it’s because of their own health or because they already have children to care for, and they’re struggling financially or emotionally.”

Grateful to be done having children, Levin is also terrified about how the upcoming Supreme Court decision likely striking down Roe will affect her kids because she isn’t sure what their future looks like.

If the court overturns the landmark ruling, states will get to decide whether to ban or restrict abortion access. Thirteen states have passed trigger laws outlawing abortion if the court overturned Roe. Fourteen states could restrict abortion to 22 weeks or earlier in a pregnancy, with proposals to ban the procedure altogether circulating.

Abortion access on the ballot in 2022

In Pennsylvania, abortion is legal up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy, with some later exceptions when the health of the person giving birth is at risk. An individual seeking the procedure must wait 24 hours after receiving mandated counseling. Minors must get parental permission before having an abortion.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat and former Planned Parenthood volunteer, has vowed to veto any legislation restricting abortion access. But with the term-limited governor leaving office in January 2023 and a series of proposals to limit abortion access circulating in the General Assembly, the procedure’s legality has become a centerpiece in the gubernatorial race.

Existing provisions could change with the results of the governor’s race as the Republican-controlled General Assembly has introduced legislation to restrict abortion access, and all nine GOP gubernatorial candidates support curtailing the procedure, with some in favor of exceptions for the life of the parent.

Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, conservative political strategist Charlie Gerow, Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, businessman Dave White, and retired cardiothoracic surgeon Nche Zama support total abortion bans with no exceptions for rape, incest, or health risks.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, former federal prosecutor Bill McSwain, and former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta said they’d support exceptions for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or health risks. 

Former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart said she would only support exceptions when the parent’s life is at risk.

The Republican candidates for governor debate on ABC-27 on Wednesday, 4/27/22 (Screen Capture)

In a debate last month, Mastriano, the leading GOP gubernatorial candidate, called legal abortion “a national catastrophe.” He vowed to “move with alacrity” on a six-week abortion ban, legislation — a so-called heartbeat bill — he has introduced in the Legislature.

During a Facebook Live on Tuesday, Mastriano said states should decide on abortion access, adding that his six-week abortion ban legislation doesn’t go far enough, but “it’s a start.”

Meanwhile, Democrats and reproductive rights advocates are using the potential decision to mobilize ahead of the upcoming primary election.

“If it were not for Gov. Wolf, we would be Texas right now. We would be Mississippi,” Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Delaware, told the Capital-Star, referring to abortion bans in those states. “We would have some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation, and I know that is what will continue to be pushed by the Legislature, which is why you hear so many people talking about the importance of this governor’s race.”

Attorney General Josh Shapiro is the only Democrat running for governor in Pennsylvania and supports maintaining abortion access. During a press call on Tuesday, he vowed to veto any legislation restricting or outlawing abortion. 

But all of the responsibility shouldn’t fall on Shapiro, Cappelletti said.

Josh Shapiro about to speak a press conference
Attorney General and 2022 Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Josh Shapiro at a press conference outside Harrisburg on March 24, 2022. (Capital-Star file photo)

“We have a Republican majority who has decided that it is their purview to circumvent the governor’s veto,” she said. “And for their non-popular policies that they want to see pushed through, like restrictive abortion care, they’re turning to constitutional amendments.”

The constitutional amendment process is lengthy and costly. But Republicans have adopted the strategy to circumvent Wolf and his veto pen since successfully curtailing the office’s emergency powers through a referendum last year.

In January, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted along party lines to advance a GOP-authored amendment declaring that there is no constitutional right to abortion or public funding for the procedure.

During a separate press call late on Tuesday, Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, said the upcoming legislative races present an opportunity for Democrats to “make significant progress” in the General Assembly.

Democrats have also stressed the importance of electing a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. The highly-watched race is viewed as one of the few opportunities for the party to maintain control of the upper chamber.

All four Democrats running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania — U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, and Jenkintown Borough Councilmember Alex Khalil — said keeping Roe will serve as a “litmus test” for potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees. But only Kenyatta and Khalil support expanding the federal court to combat the conservative majority.

“We were motivated before this, but now, people are outraged,” Pennsylvania Democrats Chairperson Nancy Patton Mills said Tuesday.

A call to action

Reproductive rights advocates turned out for nationwide protests on Tuesday in light of the Supreme Court draft opinion leak.

“We got mad and showed up,” Katherine Deane told the Capital-Star during a demonstration outside the Capitol in Harrisburg.

The event, organized by Sam Lowe, lasted from late Tuesday afternoon into the evening, with protestors holding signs opposing restrictive abortion laws and all-out bans.

Katherine Dean and Sam Lowe protest outside the Pennsylvania Capitol on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (Capital-Star photo by Marley Parish)

Levin brought her kids to the Capitol for the demonstration, joining attendees with signs that said: “Abortion saved my mommy’s life” and “Bans off our bodies. Keep abortion safe and legal.”

Though disappointed — not surprised — that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe, Cappelletti said she still has hope for the future, primarily fueled by her constituents.

“What we do in the Legislature does not happen in a vacuum,” she said. “Our policies impact everyone, so I take phone calls and emails from people all across the commonwealth. And I have heard from them, and I am hopeful that we are going to come up as an activated base of people who recognize the incredible importance of this moment.”

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