As Friday’s Supreme Court decision over abortion rights continues to reverberate across the nation, Democratic legislators in Pennsylvania called on voters across the state to organize and keep the issue of abortion top of mind ahead of November’s midterm elections.
In a series of rallies held at the state Capitol Monday, Democrats from both chambers of the General Assembly pledged to do everything in their power to protect abortion access in the commonwealth, though they acknowledged that being in the legislative minority may hinder that goal.
With Democrats holding little power over what bills do and don’t run in Harrisburg, many legislators in the party urged voters to talk with family and friends about abortion access and elect candidates that support abortion rights this fall.
State Sen. Judy Schwank, a Democrat from Berks County, promised to “fight like hell” to keep abortion access legal in the state. She said that last week’s Supreme Court decision, which overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, sent the country backwards.
“Roe has protected my ability to make decisions about my own body for my entire adult life. I can't tell you how difficult it is for me to think that my granddaughters will grow up in a country that affords them fewer rights than it did their grandmother,” Schwank said. “That's the very definition of going backward.”
Schwank and state Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, a Montgomery County Democrat, expressed concern over a measure in the legislature that would clarify that the state constitution does not guarantee a right to abortion, and that would also prevent taxpayers from being forced to pay for elective abortions.
Cappelletti said the measure, which would amend the state constitution, would “deny you your right to health care and specifically say that there is no right to abortion care here in Pennsylvania.”
Erica Clayton Wright, a spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus, clarified that the measure, Senate Bill 956, would not ban abortions in the state. Rather, it would clarify “that the constitution does not guarantee the right to taxpayer-funded abortion or any other abortion-related rights.”
“Just as the right to abortion does not exist in the United States Constitution, the same can be stated for the Pennsylvania Constitution,” Clayton Wright said in an email. “As such, Pennsylvania taxpayers have no constitutionally required responsibility to pay for elective abortions. It is important not to conflate a protection against forcing taxpayers to pay for abortions with an abortion ban. It is not a ban.”
State Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, a Republican, said Friday that the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, rightly gives states the power to regulate abortion access.
“The opinion acknowledges long-standing precedent that individual states are better suited to determine what is best for their residents, not the federal government,” Ward said in a statement. “Returning power back to the states allows state legislatures and their people to decide the best path.”
Republican lawmakers have introduced a series of bills looking to curtail abortions in recent years, including a measure that would ban abortions based on a Down syndrome diagnosis, and another bill that would prohibit abortions from being performed if cardiac activity is detected in the womb.
Some bills, like the Down syndrome abortion ban, have been approved by both chambers of the General Assembly, though Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed it, and has threatened to veto others like it that would place new limitations on abortion.
On Monday, Seven Democratic senators announced plans to introduce legislation that would codify Roe v. Wade’s protections in state law, though the measure would need support from Republicans to advance through the chamber.
Democrats are using the Dobbs decision as a rallying cry, pushing voters to elect Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Attorney General Josh Shapiro in statewide races this fall. During a press conference hosted by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Democratic lawmakers said the decision from the Supreme Court underscores the need for voters to elect Democrats in November.
“It is clearer now more than ever that in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, women’s independence and women's ability to make their own health care decisions is absolutely on the ballot,” said House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton. “We're not here crying our tears. We're here with our sleeves rolled up and ready to rumble.”