Access to abortion was not directly on the ballot for November’s general election in Pennsylvania. But it was driving force for voters who elected a Democrat as the next governor and helped flip enough seats in the state House of Representatives for Democrats to win a narrow — but complicated — majority for the first time in more than a decade.
While reproductive rights advocates are celebrating the results as an opportunity to ensure abortion remains legal and accessible in the Commonwealth, their efforts to protect and expand coverage are not over.
“We’ve been so focused on playing defense and maintaining access to essential care that there hasn’t been an opportunity to proactively legislate,” Signe Espinoza, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, told Capital-Star.
As the US Supreme Court Abolish the constitutional protections of the federal constitution for abortion In June, Democrats quickly launched a campaign for reproductive freedom and tried to communicate what is at stake when state legislatures – now the authority over abortion and its legality – move to restrict the practice.
In Pennsylvania, the governor’s racial and legislative contests have been the focus of abortion advocates, who highlighted past efforts to limit the procedure and reproductive health.
Since Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf took office in January 2015, he has vetoed three bills — including proposals that would do so Make abortion illegal in the 20th week of pregnancy, Ban abortion after a Down syndrome diagnosisand Ban abortions performed by telemedicine – sent to his desk. As Republicans ramped up efforts to limit access to abortion, Wolf pledged to block any proposal to limit reproductive health care.
But when Wolf left office in January, supporters were at a loss for Governor-elect Josh Shapiro, who vowed to continue Wolf’s promise to block restrictive abortion measures.
However, having a Democrat as head of state is not enough to protect access to abortion, Espinoza said, referring to a GOP-authored five-part constitutional amendment package that lawmakers put forward earlier this year.
The invoice contains a proposed constitutional amendment That, if approved by voters, would amend the state constitution to state that there is “no constitutional right to taxpayer-sponsored abortion or any other right related to abortion.”
Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, who is on course to become the next president pro tempore in January, said earlier this month that the GOP-controlled chamber is ready to discuss proposed constitutional changes with Shapiro.
the change pack, currently the subject of an ongoing litigation submitted by Wolf, could reach voters as early as May 2023 if passed again in the next legislature. A governor cannot veto a constitutional amendment.
House Democrats, who won 102 seats in the 203-seat chamber, will have to rely on Republican support to secure the top-ranking office in the lower chamber reported by Spotlight PA.
If Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, becomes the next speaker of the House of Representatives, the constitutional amendment package will likely not get a word in and thus never reach voters. However, McClinton, the current minority leader, must have the support of a majority of House lawmakers to become the speaker to chair the session and call bills to a vote.
A spokesman for the House Democratic Caucus did not answer specific questions about the constitutional amendment package and access to abortion, but said lawmakers “remain committed to protecting people’s access to health care — including women’s reproductive care.”
Having Democrats control the House of Representatives means “an end to the onslaught of abortion bans and restrictions that anti-abortion legislation has pushed through in recent years,” Espinoza said.
It also means that abortion and reproductive health access advocates can focus on rallying support for legislation expanding sexual and reproductive health in Pennsylvania, including a proposal that requires it comprehensive sex education in public schools. Espinoza also said proponents want lawmakers to remove “onerous testing requirements” and expand telemedicine access to contraceptives.
Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates were watching five states where voters in November’s general election either enshrined reproductive freedom in law or blocked abortion restrictions. Espinoza believes voters would support a similar amendment if passed by the General Assembly.
October Survey of Pennsylvania Registered Voters published by Franklin & Marshall College shows support for keeping abortion legal in some or all circumstances.
“In post-Roe America, people struggle every day to access the care they need, and abortion clinics need support,” Espinoza said. “We will continue to fight every day to remove the stigma of abortion and increase access to it in Pennsylvania.”