Dec 3, 2021 - News

SCOTUS' ruling on Mississippi abortion case could impact Pennsylvania

Data: Myers Abortion Facility Database on OSF; Map: Thomas Oide/Axios
Data: Myers Abortion Facility Database on OSF; Map: Thomas Oide/Axios

Abortion will remain legal in Pennsylvania, up to about 24 weeks, if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. But protections are still vulnerable.

Driving the news: The nation's high court heard oral arguments Wednesday in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a case over Mississippi's law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The big picture: The Supreme Court's decision could potentially overturn the 1973 ruling, which set the precedent for a constitutional right to abortion.

  • Without Roe, abortion laws vary by state, Axios' Oriana Gonzalez reports. Abortion would immediately become illegal in 12 states, none of which are located in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic region.

Zoom in: Pennsylvania isn't one of the 15 states with laws explicitly legalizing abortion, but it does have a long list of patchwork abortion restrictions.

  • Pennsylvania bans abortions after 24 weeks. If Roe v. Wade is reversed, the state legislature could create a more restrictive law and send it to the governor to sign.

Between the lines: Gov. Tom Wolf has vowed to veto any bills that come to his desk aiming to restrict abortion access. He's shut down three so far.

  • However, Pennsylvania has a Republican-controlled legislature, and the term-limited governor's seat is up for grabs next year.
  • Having both Republican-controlled executive and legislative branches would likely change the dynamics, potentially allowing for stricter laws to be enacted faster.

What they're saying: "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," Wolf said.

  • Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who's running for governor next year, called this case an attempt to "rob women of their constitutional right to control their own bodies."
  • Shapiro filed an amicus brief with several other states arguing Mississippi's law is unconstitutional.

The other side: Former Republican congressman and governor hopeful Lou Barletta told Axios in a statement that he hopes SCOTUS upholds the Mississippi law.

  • "As Americans, we should do all that we can to protect the most vulnerable, and that should include unborn children," he said.
  • State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who's expected to run for governor, introduced a bill earlier this year that would ban abortions if a doctor can detect a heartbeat, which can happen as early as six weeks. He sponsored similar legislation in 2019.
  • Meanwhile, Republicans in the House and Senate are trying to amend Pennsylvania's constitution to clarify that there's no right to an abortion.

The bottom line: Realistically, abortion is safe in Pennsylvania for now, but that can change with next year's election season.

What to watch: The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in the summer of 2022.


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