AMBLER, Pa. — With abortion rights under siege nationwide, Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday reiterated his vow to veto any attempt by Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled General Assembly to restrict a woman’s constitutionally protected right to access the procedure.
Surrounded by a delegation of statewide and local officials, Wolf said he “condemned” such states as Alabama and Missouri that have enacted near total bans on abortion, as well as “those folks who think they want to put somebody, a bureaucrat, a politician, in between a woman and her doctor.”
“That is wrong and I will veto those bills,” the Democrat said.
Last month, Republicans in the state House, with the support of some Democrats, passed a bill banning abortion based on an in-utero diagnosis of Down syndrome. Supporters claim they’re acting to protect the rights of Pennsylvanians with disabilities. Critics have charged the bill — co-sponsored by state House Speaker Mike Turzai, an ardent opponent of abortion access — is both unconstitutional and unenforceable.
A companion bill is making its way through the 50-member state Senate.
Wolf was joined at the noontime event at a suburban SEPTA station by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro; U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District; state Sen. Maria Collett, D-Montgomery; state Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery; Montgomery County Commissioners Val Arkoosh and Ken Strong; as well as Ambler Mayor Jeanne Sorg.
While Wolf has been an ardent supporter of abortion rights since before he took office, another prominent Pennsylvania Democrat is famously opposed: U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Pa.. The lawmaker, however, has supported funding for Planned Parenthood.
Wolf’s pledge Friday stood in contrast to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, another anti-abortion Democrat who signed a bill Thursday that bans abortions after six weeks. Edwards is up for re-election this November.
The gathering attracted a hundred or so abortion rights activists as well as a few dozen protesters opposed to abortion access.
The always contentious issue began to receive increased attention last year, after federal Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kavanaugh replaced swing Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the 1992 Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania v. Casey decision. The ruling upheld the core of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case, but created an “undue burden” standard that has been used to restrict access to the procedure.
The belief among activists and pundits is that the five justices appointed by Republican presidents (Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, John Roberts, and Clarence Thomas) constitute a majority to overturn Roe.
As a result, GOP legislators in a number of states are enacting increasingly stringent restrictions. The most stark example is a new Alabama law, which outlaws abortion in all cases except where the life of the mother is endangered.
Wolf, a former Planned Parenthood escort, directly addressed this development in his remarks.
“All the bills that are going through [in] Alabama and Georgia and everywhere else — all those bills, they’re not a matter of whether we have [a] choice or not,” Wolf said. “It’s a matter of who’s gonna make the choice. Where I come down: The woman should make the choice.”
Shapiro applauded Wolf’s pledge and took aim at President Donald Trump.
“We’ve heard you loud and clear, and the good news is here in Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf is your backstop and our champion,” Shapiro said. “I will never hesitate as your attorney general to fight to protect the reproductive rights of all women in this commonwealth.”
He went on to cite his battle against the Trump administration’s initiative to allow employers to opt out of providing birth control as part of their healthcare plans.
“When the president tried to enact illegal rules to leave contraception care up to a CEO, we took the president to court,” Shapiro said. “So we led a nationwide coalition, and today a nationwide injunction is in place protecting women’s access to contraception.”
Dean, a freshman elected to Congress last year, said she has “never met a single woman who woke up one day and said, ‘Yeah, I think I’d like to have an abortion today.’”
“It just does not happen,” she continued. “Life is complicated and sometimes women find themselves in situations where that decision feels necessary.”
Nick Field is a freelance writer from Bucks County. His work appears frequently in the Capital-Star.