Overturning Roe v. Wade could mean big changes for Pa. next year

·6 min read

No abortion clinics exist in Beaver County.

The abortion clinic closest to southern Beaver County is Planned Parenthood in Moon Township, 30-plus miles away for some northern county residents. But traveling to receive reproductive and abortion-related care is no new feat in most of Pennsylvania.

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As of 2017, roughly 85% of Pennsylvania counties do not have abortion services, according to Guttmacher Institute, which is on-par nationally, where approximately 89% of U.S. counties do not house abortion clinics.

"There is a lack of access everywhere," said Sara Dixon, public relations manager at Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania.

For people seeking abortions in western Pennsylvania, there are three service providers in the region, according to abortionfinder.org: Planned Parenthood, which has locations in Moon Township, Bridgeville, Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Somerset and across the Ohio border in Youngstown; Allegheny Reproductive Health Center in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh; and UPMC Magee-Womens in Oakland.

UPMC did not confirm whether the healthcare system specifically offers abortion services, but Lisa Lombardo, director of public relations with UPMC, said the system provides "all legal reproductive services."

In Beaver County, Heritage Valley Health System in Brighton Township does not offer abortion services, but has transfer agreements with tertiary centers for high-risk pregnancies if needed.

The divisive abortion conversation is reaching new heights after a leaked Supreme Court opinion draft suggested the court is set to overturn Roe v. Wade, a 1973 landmark decision that established abortion as a constitutional right. Politico published the leaked draft majority opinion, where Associate Justice Samuel Alito called Roe "egregiously wrong from the start." The court's final ruling is expected later this summer.

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If the Supreme Court does overturn Roe, dozens of states have laws that could ban or limit abortions, according to Guttmacher. Many states, not including Pennsylvania, have trigger laws designed to ban abortions automatically if Roe is overturned. Other states have six- or eight-week abortion bans, prohibiting abortions for that period. Neighboring Ohio has a six-week ban and West Virginia has a pre-Roe ban enacted before 1973 that was never removed.

A handful of states have some protections in place for abortion rights, including Delaware, New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf released a statement on Tuesday regarding the state's response to a potential dismantling of Roe. Wolf, who has vetoed three anti-abortion bills since taking office, said Pennsylvania will not enact any anti-abortion legislation while he's in office.

"A decision by the Supreme Court on Roe v. Wade will not have an immediate impact on Pennsylvania or its current laws. Should this opinion become final, abortion access in Pennsylvania will remain legal and safe as long as I am governor. I will continue to veto any legislation that threatens access to abortion and women’s health care," Wolf said in a statement.

But with the primary two weeks away, a Republican governor could jeopardize reproductive rights, as a majority of the Republicans running for governor in the May 17 primary support abortion bans or restrictions.

A Republican-authored amendment passed the state Senate committee earlier this year proposing the state constitution clarify "that there is no right to an abortion or abortion funding within Pennsylvania's constitution." The bill must pass a Senate vote before landing on an upcoming election ballot.

State Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair County, authored the constitutional amendment to circumvent Wolf's veto power regarding abortion rights, putting the decision in the hands of voters.

A constitutional amendment was approved by Pennsylvania voters last year, as more than half voted in favor of limiting the governor's power to declare and sustain a state of emergency.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the only Democrat running for Pennsylvania governor, said if elected, he would veto any legislation that bans abortion.

Roughly 49% of the nation said abortion should be "legal and accessible" in a USA TODAY/Ipsos poll published this month. Only about a third of Republicans felt that way, compared with 73% of Democrats.

People of color could be especially affected by changes to abortion rights. Black women are at a significantly higher risk of dying from childbirth complications than white women, according to the CDC. Maternal mortality rates for Black women are three times higher, at 55.3 per 100,000 live births compared to 19.1 for white women.

More:Pregnancy-related deaths could rise 20% or more in states that outlaw abortion, experts say

Roughly 700 women die each year in the U.S. either during pregnancy, delivery or soon afterward. Research published in Duke University's research journal Demography estimates pregnancy-related deaths could increase as a result of a nationwide abortion ban.

Amanda Stevenson, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said in the first year of an abortion ban, maternal mortality could increase by 7%, with 49 additional deaths that year. In years following, that number could rise to 140 additional deaths, or a 21% increase. Deaths of Black pregnant people could increase by 33%, Stevenson estimates.

A study published by BMC Health Services Research in late 2021 found similar results, noting that restrictive abortion policies could contribute to adverse birth outcomes, disproportionately affecting minority populations.

Fewer people die from legal abortions each year than from pregnancy, the CDC reports, with fewer than 1 death per 100,000 abortions.

Some advocates say maternal mortality rates are evidence of a need for better healthcare for women.

Beaver Falls Mayor Kenya Johns said there's a need for improved women's healthcare in the region, especially among women of color, and it shouldn't be a political issue.

"Maternal mortality is terrible in this country, especially for women of color," Johns said. "Women are dying at increased rates because their needs not being taken care of."

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The National Academy of Medicine released a report documenting how racial and ethnic minorities receive lower-quality health care than whites, and a National Library of Medicine study found significant correlations between implicit bias and lower quality of care. Other studies have shown people of color are more likely to have cost-related barriers to receiving care, and often experience interpersonal racism and discrimination in medical offices.

"Hopefully we can come together, all parties, to make a real, comprehensive plan to address the need for better care for women. Especially OBGYN care," Johns said. "You can't just care about a human life in utero, you have to care about human life at all times."

This article originally appeared on Beaver County Times: Overturning Roe v. Wade could mean big changes for Pa. next year