Abortion rights supporters rally at the Pa. State Capitol on Tuesday, 5/21/19, as part of a national day of action (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)
While the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a Mississippi law directly challenging Roe v. Wade on Wednesday, advocates, including in Pennsylvania’s capital, organized to show their support for the 1973 landmark decision that declared access to abortion a constitutional right.
The Mississippi law under review makes abortions illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Enacted in 2018 by the Republican-controlled Legislature, the law never took effect because of an immediate legal challenge. But with a 6-3 conservative majority among the nine justices, a ruling to overturn Roe could drastically reshape abortion access by setting a new precedent.
“We are a state with some abortion access in limited areas, with a limited number of providers,” Signe Espinoza, Planned Parenthood Association of Pennsylvania executive director, said in a statement hours before a series of events advocating for abortion access began across the state. “The results of this SCOTUS case could put pressure on the entire abortion access network throughout the country — including Pennsylvania.”
About a dozen state legislatures have proposed laws to limit abortion access. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, more could follow. By Wednesday afternoon, following hours of arguments, the Supreme Court appeared poised to uphold the Mississippi abortion law. However, a decision in the case is expected to take months, the New York Times reported.
“Justice can’t be achieved until every person can make their own decisions about their bodies, their lives, and their futures,” Planned Parenthood Keystone said in a statement hours before a 5 p.m. rally in Harrisburg.
In September, more than a thousand opponents to abortion access participated in Pennsylvania’s first March for Life in Pennsylvania. A dozen Republican lawmakers, including chamber leadership, turned out to show their support for legislation to restrict abortion access across the commonwealth.
Justice can't be achieved until every person can make their own decisions about their bodies, their lives, and their futures #AbortionIsEssential
— Planned Parenthood Keystone (@PPKeystone) December 1, 2021
Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed a Down Syndrome abortion ban and a bill regulating the disposal of fetal remains. The proposals are currently sitting in the state Senate waiting for a floor vote.
House Republicans have offered new restrictions on abortion providers, including a bill to require that fetuses receive pain medication before an abortion. A similar law in Utah has stumped doctors, who say it is confusing to implement and is not backed by science.
Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, is the lead sponsor on a so-called “heartbeat bill” that would ban abortion as early as six weeks, a timeframe before most people know they are pregnant. Medical experts, however, say the term is misleading because an embryo does not yet have a developed heart at six weeks, the Texas Tribune reported. State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton, has repeatedly introduced an identical bill in the House.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has promised to veto any legislation restricting abortion access, reiterating that commitment in a statement on Wednesday.
“I have vetoed three that were placed on my desk for signature and vowed to veto the rest,” he said. “I remain committed to do everything in my power to protect these rights for the rest of my term. Abortion is health care. It must remain safe and legal.”
But with Wolf, who is term-limited, leaving office in January 2023, abortion access has become a centerpiece in the governor’s race.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the only Democrat so far seeking the party nomination, has said the only thing keeping Pennsylvania from enacting an abortion ban, such as the one passed in Texas earlier this year, is a Democrat serving as the state’s top executive.
After Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed a bill that bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy into law, Shapiro filed an amicus brief to support the U.S. Department of Justice’s challenge to the ban.
“The Mississippi case before the United States Supreme Court could nullify the law of the land set by Roe v. Wade and rob women of their constitutional right to control their own bodies,” Shapiro said in a statement. “The extremists behind these laws won’t stop with abortion. A decision upholding Mississippi’s law would threaten many rights Americans have come to depend on, including the right to marry and access to contraception, based on a radical, narrow-minded, and unilateral reinterpretation of the Constitution.”
“The Texas law defies the constitution by attacking women’s rights and is a threat to all American women,” he said in a statement. “It encourages people to go out and sue their neighbors — or even total strangers — for health decisions they have no business interfering with.”
Lou Barletta and Charlie Gerow, Republican gubernatorial primary candidates, are in favor of restricting abortion access. Gerow attended the September March for Life. Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, who recently announced a run for governor, joined lawmakers on the stage at the inaugural event.
During a November Facebook Live, Mastriano, who is contemplating a gubernatorial run and uses “my body, my choice” to oppose COVID-19 mandates, said restricting abortion access is his No. 1 priority. On Monday, he voiced frustration with the Republican-controlled Senate’s failure to call the so-called “heartbeat bill” up for a vote.
“It’s not a waste of time,” he said of the bill and an inevitable veto from Wolf. “If you … say that’s a baby and you’ll defend life, then you’ll do it every opportunity you can. This pragmatism is a ruse. It’s not pragmatism.”
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