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)
For eight years, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has been the sole barrier against legislation sponsored by the Republican-controlled General Assembly that would restrict access to abortion.
And now, with the term-limited governor leaving office next year and a series of proposals to limit abortion access in Pennsylvania already circulating in the Legislature, reproductive rights advocates have issued a call to action to ensure people have autonomy over their bodies — all while a looming U.S. Supreme Court decision could overturn Roe v. Wade.
“Abortion rights are always on the ballot,” Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates Executive Director Signe Espinoza said during a Thursday town hall. “Every election is important to us, and the 2022 election is incredibly important in this fight and this movement as we continue to fight for abortion liberation.”
Josh Shapiro, the current state attorney general, and the endorsed Democratic candidate for governor, has promised to veto any bill restricting abortion access.
But the GOP primary field for governor is double-digits deep. The majority of candidates have expressed support for limiting access and adopting restrictive policies similar to the Texas ban, which prohibits the procedure once cardiac activity is detected — usually around six weeks of pregnancy and without exceptions in cases of incest and rape.
“We’ve had a champion in the governor’s mansion. And we are going to work tirelessly with our supporters, our partners, and all the folks who are ready to do this work to ensure that we have another reproductive rights champion in the governor’s mansion,” Espinoza added.
An October 2021 poll by Franklin & Marshall College showed that 36 percent of registered voters support legal abortion under any circumstances, and 51 percent supported the procedure under certain circumstances. Eleven percent said they thought abortion should be illegal in all cases.
Abortion rights are always on the ballot. Every election is important to us, and the 2022 election is incredibly important in this fight and this movement as we continue to fight for abortion liberation.
– Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates Executive Director Signe Espinoza
More than a dozen state legislatures have imagined a post-Roe era, with bills to limit abortion access. And if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark case, more could follow.
Current Pennsylvania law permits abortion for any reason, except for selecting a gender, as long as six months — or 24 weeks — into a pregnancy. In 2019, the state Health Department reported 31,018 abortions.
Pennsylvania Republicans have proposed limitations on abortion providers, including a bill that requires fetuses receive pain medication before an abortion.
Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, who’s running for governor, is the lead sponsor on a bill that would ban abortion as early as six weeks, which is before most people know they are pregnant. Commonly dubbed “heartbeat bills,” the proposals, according to medical experts, are misleading because an embryo does not yet have a developed heart at six weeks gestation.
State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton, has repeatedly introduced an identical bill in the House of Representatives.
Most recently, Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, a former nurse, introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would add a section to the state’s governing document declaring that there is no constitutional right to an abortion or public funding for the procedure. The measure advanced out of a Senate committee last month.
The GOP-controlled Senate Health & Human Services Committee also approved a Ward-authored bill prioritizing public funds for family planning services offered by private hospitals and federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, and state health facilities. Ward argued the legislation would equitably distribute funds to providers.
We do not want to see what’s happened in Texas and what has happened in other states already. And in 2022, we’ve got work to do.
– House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton
“I pray that we live in a country and a commonwealth that respects every human life, most especially those of the unborn,” Ward, citing a lawsuit now before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as the motivation behind the proposed amendment, said in January.
The case, brought by a coalition of abortion care providers, asks the court to lift Medicaid restrictions on taxpayer funding for elective abortions.
Instead, voters get to decide whether to approve the proposed change after it passes the House and Senate in two consecutive sessions.
The constitutional amendment process is lengthy and costly. But Republicans, who hold the majority in the General Assembly, appear to have adopted the strategy to circumvent Wolf and his veto pen since successfully curtailing the office’s emergency powers through a referendum in May.
Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates have said the proposed constitutional amendment “distorts reality.” They also argue that the constitutional change — and Ward’s bill to implement a tiered funding system for family planning services — would restrict access to general health, including physicals, pelvic exams, breast cancer screenings, and routine checkups.
“It means that if this were passed and later approved on the ballot, this bill would make it much easier for the state to ban and severely restrict abortion if Roe was ever overturned,” Espinoza said. “With a direct challenge to Roe in front of the Supreme Court, right now is the time for us to strengthen our commitment to sexual and reproductive health care and not strip away fundamental rights for Pennsylvanians.”
Advocates urged supporters to contact lawmakers who have authored and supported legislation restricting abortion access in Pennsylvania, including Borowicz, Reps. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, Dawn Keefer, R-York, Tim O’Neal, R-Washington, Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion, Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, and Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon — voicing their opposition.
House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, reiterated calls to action, telling advocates that her Republican colleagues are more concerned with limiting personal health decisions instead of pandemic recovery, school funding, and worker support.
“The attacks on women’s rights are the attacks on our ability to make decisions about our body, and Pennsylvania is in this national battleground,” McClinton said Thursday. “We do not want to see what’s happened in Texas and what has happened in other states already. And in 2022, we’ve got work to do.”
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