May 4, 2022 - Politics

Pennsylvania governor's race is the next abortion access battleground

Illustration of a female symbol, but its shadow has a slash through it.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The future of abortion access in Pennsylvania could all come down to the crowded governor's race.

Driving the news: A leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade — written by Justice Samuel Alito and first reported by Politico late Monday — holds major implications for the midterm elections.

The big picture: If the Supreme Court were to overturn the 1973 ruling, which set the precedent for a constitutional right to abortion, a patchwork of state laws would govern the procedure, Axios' Oriana Gonzalez reports.

  • Abortion would immediately become illegal in at least 13 states, none of which are located in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic region.

State of play: Without Roe, abortion will remain legal in Pennsylvania for up to about 24 weeks of pregnancy, but protections are still vulnerable.

  • Pennsylvania doesn't have any laws on the books codifying citizens' right to an abortion, but there aren't any so-called "trigger laws" for a ban to go into effect if the ruling is overturned either.
  • The state has a number of abortion restrictions, including a 24-hour waiting period and counseling requirements.

Zoom in: Gov. Tom Wolf has shut down three anti-abortion rights bills during his tenure so far and has vowed to veto any related legislation.

  • But with a Republican-controlled legislature and Wolf's term ending, political dynamics could change following this year's election, enabling stricter laws to be enacted quickly.
  • State Attorney General Josh Shapiro is the only Democrat running for governor. Meanwhile, there are more than a half dozen Republicans vying for a spot in the upcoming primary.

What they're saying: Shapiro has said he's committed to "protecting the right to choose," posting on social media that "abortion is health care."

Meanwhile, Republican rival state Sen. Doug Mastriano is renewing his push on a bill he reintroduced last year to ban abortions if a doctor can detect a heartbeat, which can happen as early as six weeks.

  • "Thanks to President Trump, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court is set to right this historic wrong. Since I was elected to the Senate, there has been no more important issue to me than the right to life," Mastriano said in a statement.

Republican governor hopeful and former congressman Lou Barletta applauded the draft and committed to approving future conservative laws.

  • "I will not prejudge or predict what kinds of legislation may come before me, but I will be a pro-life governor, and I will sign pro-life legislation," he said in a statement.

What to watch: There's also a constitutional amendment making its way through the legislature that says the right to abortion isn't guaranteed in the state's constitution.

  • A constitutional amendment, which cannot be vetoed by a governor, is easier to pass in Pennsylvania compared to other states because it only needs a simple majority in two consecutive sessions before getting approval by a majority vote in a primary or general election.
  • It could go on the ballot as early as May 2023.

Between the lines: The amendment wouldn't immediately outlaw abortion, but it can pave the way for future criminalization of abortions, according to the Women's Law Project.

  • Theoretically, Democrats can also put up their own amendment, a statutory protection or a bill to enshrine the right to an abortion, but they don't have the votes to make it a reality.

Plus: The longterm implication of overturning Roe v. Wade is that it could implicate other rights that are derived from the right to privacy, like contraception and same-sex marriage, according to Adrienne Ghorasi, the program manager at the Center for Public Health Law Research.

Of note: Monday was the last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania. It's also a closed state, meaning only Republicans and Democrats can vote in their respective primaries.

What's next: A Supreme Court ruling is expected to come at the end of June.

The bottom line: Abortion rights are safe in Pennsylvania for now, but the upcoming elections can change that.

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