The future of abortion in Pennsylvania is on the ballot this fall

·5 min read

Jun. 27—The United States has entered a new era on the issue of abortion.

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that for 49 years had required states to allow women to have abortions. The move represents a major shift, one that is likely to have severe impacts across the nation.

That's because the decision on if and how to regulate or ban abortions is now one that falls to individual states.

Some states — like Texas, Mississippi and Utah — are expected to use the newfound authority to implement near-total bans on abortion. Other states — like California, New Jersey and Oregon — have laws on the books that will continue to permit abortions in their states.

So what will the Roe v. Wade decision mean for Pennsylvania?

Well, that will likely depend on what happens at the ballot box this fall.

State law currently permits abortion up to 24 weeks. It is permitted later in pregnancy if the life of the mother is in danger.

The Republican-controlled state Legislature has shown interest in changing that. A handful of bills that would restrict access to or effectively ban abortions already had been introduced before the Supreme Court decision.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has said he will veto those attempts if they find their way to his desk. But his time in office is up at the end of the year.

That means whoever is elected as his replacement will play a critical role in the future of abortion in Pennsylvania. And the two men competing to be the next governor couldn't differ more in their stances on the issue.

Republican candidate Doug Mastriano wants a complete ban on abortions. Democrat Josh Shapiro stands opposed to any legislation that would restrict them.

Abortion will certainly be on the ballot this November.

Here's what you need to know about what the gubernatorial race means to the future of abortion in Pennsylvania.

If Shapiro wins

Shapiro vowed to be the last line of defense against legislation banning abortion, making that declaration at a rally in Philadelphia days after the draft opinion striking down Roe v. Wade was leaked in May.

"They're coming for all your rights, and I'll be there to defend you every single step of the way," Shapiro told the crowd at the rally.

Shapiro said he will veto any bill that would restrict abortion rights, and he will expand access to reproductive care.

As attorney general, Shapiro repeatedly has come down firmly in support of protecting or expanding abortion rights. He challenged abortion bans in other states in court and argued against the Trump administration's gag rule that barred funding for clinics that made referrals to or informed patients about abortion providers.

If Mastriano wins

Mastriano said during a gubernatorial primary debate in April that a full ban on abortion should be instituted without exceptions for rape, incest or instances where the mother's life is jeopardized by the pregnancy.

"I am pro-life. It is the No. 1 issue," Mastriano said, adding he believes life begins at conception.

He said he would sign a "heartbeat bill" that would effectively ban abortion at about six weeks, end any state funding to Planned Parenthood and support funding for counseling and for adoption services.

As a state lawmaker, Mastriano has introduced his own "heartbeat bill."

"Once the repeal of Roe v. Wade is official, I am calling on the General Assembly to hold a vote on the heartbeat bill," he said in a press release. "The time is now for action to protect the rights of the unborn."

Where Pennsylvanians stand

The majority of Pennsylvanians support some access to abortion, according to the most recent Franklin & Marshall College poll released in May.

The survey found that 54% of registered Keystone State voters said abortion should be legal under certain circumstances.

It also shows that 31% said abortion should be legal in all circumstances while just 14% said abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.

The pollster has also asked Pennsylvanians about specific legislation, which could provide more clarity on where voters stand.

An October survey found that about 70% of registered voters strongly opposed passing a law in Pennsylvania modeled after a more restrictive Texas law that bans abortion after six weeks and allows private citizens to sue providers.

It found only 14% of voters would support such a law in the state.

What to expect next

To get a picture of what new abortion restrictions in Pennsylvania could look like, one only needs to turn to legislation that already has been proposed in the state.

Republican lawmakers have introduced bills that would levy bans or strict limits on abortions in the state. While none of them is likely to become law — the governor has said he would veto them and they would need to be reintroduced when a new legislative session starts next year — they can serve as a template for the types of changes some on the right have in mind.

And Republican leaders in the General Assembly have made clear that they most certainly intend to push for change.

House Speaker Bryan Cutler and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff issued a statement Friday that said the Supreme Court's ruling makes it clear that individual states have the authority to establish laws that are in the best interest of their residents.

"This ruling presents a necessary opportunity to examine our existing abortion law, and discussions around possible changes are already underway," they said in the statement.

Proposed 'heartbeat bills'

Senate Bill 378: The bill would ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected by a physician.

Prime sponsor: Mastriano, a Franklin County Republican.

Status: In Senate Health & Human Services Committee.

House Bill 904: The bill would ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected by a physician.

Prime sponsor: Stephanie Borowicz, a Clinton County Republican.

Status: Passed House Health Committee in May and awaiting action by the full House.

Proposed constitutional amendments

House Bill 2252: Proposes a constitutional amendment banning public funding of elective abortions and prevents the courts from changing state abortion laws.

Prime sponsor: Rep. Donna Oberlander, a Clarion County Republican.

Status: In House Health Committee.

Senate Bill 956: Proposes a constitutional amendment banning public funding of elective abortions and prevents the courts from changing state abortion laws.

Prime sponsor: Judy Ward, a Blair County Republican.

Status: Passed Senate Health & Human Services Committee in January and is before the full Senate.