Hundreds of protesters rally in Harrisburg on Saturday, May 14, 2022, to promote abortion access (Capital-Star photo).
Hundreds of advocates took to the Pennsylvania Capitol steps on Saturday, reacting to a leaked draft opinion showing that the U.S. Supreme Court is seemingly poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
With “bans off our bodies” as their rallying cry, organizers and lawmakers urged Pennsylvanians to voice opposition to a series of proposed restrictions on abortion circulating the Republican-controlled General Assembly, and vote in the current election cycle.
“I’ve taken for granted my entire life that women should have a choice over their reproductive health,” Cheryl Tierney, a 51-year-old pediatrician with Penn State Health, told the Capital-Star.
And if the Supreme Court moves to overturn the 1973 decision, Pennsylvania could enact legislation limiting abortion access across the commonwealth.
“Generations before us have fought tirelessly to gain and protect the rights we have today,” Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates Executive Director Signe Espinoza said, addressing a crowd motivated by anger, frustration, and fear of what could happen if abortion access is curtailed.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat and former Planned Parenthood volunteer, has vetoed three proposals and promised to block future legislation restricting the procedure as long as he’s in office. But as the governor prepares to leave his post in January 2023, existing abortion regulations could tighten if a Republican is elected governor in the November general election.
“If the Supreme Court goes through with this ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, it will put the right of every American — every American — to make their own private medical decisions in jeopardy,” Wolf said, describing the leaked draft opinion as a “gut punch.”
Although the leaked draft opinion does not change existing law in Pennsylvania, Wolf cautioned protesters about what could come if the case is overturned.
“This is no excuse for complacency,” he said. “This will be a fight.”
Thirteen states have passed so-called trigger laws, which would ban abortions if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade. Pennsylvania is not one of them, but all nine GOP gubernatorial candidates have called for additional abortion restrictions. At least five have said they would support a complete ban on the procedure with no exceptions for rape, incest, or health risks.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the only Democrat running for governor in Pennsylvania, has vowed to veto any legislation restricting abortion access.
Republicans in Harrisburg have authored legislation that would impose a ban on abortion once cardiac activity is detected. They have drafted a bill to ban the procedure after a Down syndrome diagnosis.
Last year, state Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, introduced a proposed constitutional amendment, which the governor cannot veto. If approved by voters, it would update the state’s governing document to state that there is no constitutional right to abortion or public funding for the procedure.
Organizers urged attendees to contact Ward and cosponsors of the proposed amendment, urging them to vote against pushing the legislation through the General Assembly. They also encouraged people to share their abortion stories and donate to an abortion fund.
When she took the podium, Dr. Sarah Horvath, medical director for Planned Parenthood Keystone, wore her white coat and a purple superhero cuff — a gift from her four-year-old daughter. As someone who has administered abortions for more than a decade, Horvath said she’s heard countless stories from her patients, who have shared their trauma and struggles.
Some tell Horvath about violent partners or date rape. Others say that their partners are sick, absent, or they got someone else pregnant at the same time. Patients talk about how they finally went back to school or are just about to graduate. Some work three jobs to get by; others care for three children and can’t afford to have another.
“And I’ve had patients who didn’t share their stories because they don’t want to because they don’t have to,” Horvath said. “Abortion is personal because there is no need to prove to me or to anybody else that you need an abortion. Abortion is personal. Abortion is love. Abortion is freedom, and abortion is health care.”
Sheryl Lee Ralph, an actress and the wife of state Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said Planned Parenthood takes care of communities.
“No matter what you believe, I believe this is my body. It is my choice. No one else should have the right to tell me what to do with my own body,” Ralph said, adding: “No more wire hangers. We’ve got work to do.”
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