For purple states like Pennsylvania, abortion laws may depend on who becomes governor : NPR

Betty Q. Hixson

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the right to an abortion in purple states, like Pennsylvania, might largely depend on which party can keep or take control of state government.


In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, is term limited. And like some other purple states, the race for governor looks neck-and-neck between Democrats and Republicans. Part of voters’ consideration will be this week’s leaked draft decision from the Supreme Court on abortion access. From member station WITF, Sam Dunklau reports.

SAM DUNKLAU, BYLINE: If the U.S. Supreme Court does decide to overturn Roe v. Wade, Pennsylvanians could still access abortion but with some caveats. Even with Roe, those caveats have been in place for decades, as state House Republican spokesman Jason Gottesman explains.

JASON GOTTESMAN: Pennsylvania right now has the Abortion Control Act, and that would be unaffected because it would then be left up to the states to decide. And we already have that law on the books.

DUNKLAU: Pregnant women have to consult with a doctor at least 24 hours before an abortion, and abortions after 24 weeks are only allowed if they’re needed because of a sexual assault, incest or to protect a pregnant person’s life. And though Republicans who control the state legislature have recently pushed bills restricting abortion further, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf has held the line by vetoing them all. But Wolf is being term limited out of his job this year, and eight Republicans are scrambling for their party’s blessing to run for it in this month’s primary.


LOU BARLETTA: I would sign any bill that comes to my desk that would protect the life of the unborn.

DUNKLAU: Some candidates for governor, like former Congressman Lou Barletta, have said in TV debates that they would keep Pennsylvania’s law in place.


BARLETTA: And I have made exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

DUNKLAU: But others, like state Senator Doug Mastriano, say they would not make exceptions. Mastriano says he’d push lawmakers to ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.


DOUG MASTRIANO: This is a national catastrophe. And so we’re going to move with alacrity, with speed on the heartbeat bill, and we’re going to get it down.

DUNKLAU: State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the only Democrat that’s running, says he and Wolf are of one mind on bills like that.


JOSH SHAPIRO: I will veto that bill and protect the fundamental freedoms of women here in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

DUNKLAU: The Cook Political Report rates the Pennsylvania governor’s race as a toss-up, and the idea that anyone could win is what has some voters worried about what would happen if the Roe decision is tossed out. Alyssa McLaughlin, who volunteers for Planned Parenthood, demonstrated on the state capitol steps with that in mind.

ALYSSA MCLAUGHLIN: Voting in this midterm election is really – especially with Governor Wolf leaving, I think that it’s really going to make a difference as to whether or not abortion access continues in the state of Pennsylvania or not.

DUNKLAU: In a recent statewide poll, 53% of Pennsylvania voters said abortion should remain legal in certain circumstances. Valerie Boland also showed up at the capitol steps and says she’d rather see the practice banned entirely. She volunteers for Doug Mastriano, one of the Republican candidates.

VALERIE BOLAND: If our government would stop funding abortion and start funding adoption, we could have adoption. These babies could be put up for adoption to loving families. When there’s abortion, there’s no chance. Like, you can’t change that.

DUNKLAU: Another protester, social worker Beth Diltz, says abortion should be legal in all cases because there are downsides to alternatives, like adoption.

BETH DILTZ: I think a lot of people forget that the foster care system doesn’t have the capacity to care for these children. There’s not enough funding. There’s not access.

DUNKLAU: Pennsylvania’s primary is less than two weeks away, and a poll last month shows two-thirds of Republican voters haven’t picked a candidate. But if the GOP takes the governor’s mansion in November, depending on who that is, access to abortion could look very different in Pennsylvania.

For NPR News, I’m Sam Dunklau in Harrisburg.


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