What does Tuesday's election mean for the future of Pa. reproductive rights?

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

The election Tuesday ushered in a wave of Democratic officials who've promised to codify Roe v. Wade.

"Governor-elect Josh Shapiro has long supported access to abortion and reproductive health care, and he's pledged to continue to do that," said Melissa Reed, president of Planned Parenthood Keystone. "So we're breathing a huge sigh of relief, but we can't be complacent."

Shapiro's victory doesn't mean the fight for reproductive rights is over, Reed added.

Both Shapiro and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who was elected as Pennsylvania's new U.S. senator, identified protecting abortion rights as a key priority during their campaigns. But Reed said state lawmakers in the General Assembly — which, as of this report, may still be led by Republican majorities in 2023 — continue to push bills that would variously restrict abortion and access to contraception.

Josh Shapiro at his election night victory party in Montgomery County.

The state legislature, for instance, is working to pass a ballot measure that could go before voters in 2023. The proposed "Pennsylvania No State Constitutional Right to Abortion" amendment could appear on the ballot next year, inserting language into the state constitution restricting abortion access statewide.

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The proposal reflects a similar ballot measure presented to Kentucky voters on Tuesday. Kentucky voters rejected the measure aimed at denying any constitutional protections for abortion by a narrow 52-48 margin, as of Wednesday afternoon.

A pro-choice rally at the capital steps in Harrisburg, Pa on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

"Getting it defeated is going to be a top priority for us in the coming year," Reed said of the proposed Pennsylvania ballot measure. "It would impact voting, it would impact the lieutenant governor's position and it would impact access to abortion in Pennsylvania."

Under current state law, abortion is unrestricted until the 24th week of pregnancy. After that, it's permitted in cases where the mother's life or health is threatened by the pregnancy.

That status has led to an influx of patients from other states since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Shapiro's office did not return requests for comment on Wednesday.

The governor-elect, however, has been vocal in his support for reproductive rights.

Following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June, Shapiro reaffirmed his belief in abortion rights.

"I plan to continue to defend doctors’ ability to practice medicine and women’s right to privacy against any efforts to enforce a defunct rule mandating women notify their husbands of their personal decisions," Shapiro said in a statement. "I will fight any attempt to erode women’s rights in our Commonwealth."

A pro-choice rally at the capital steps in Harrisburg, Pa on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

Key activist groups, including Planned Parenthood Keystone, are continuing the fight and boosting their support services, Reed said.

"This election is really very meaningful and very good for short-term access to abortion in Pennsylvania," Reed said. "However, we have got to stay vigilant in protecting access to care here. People need to stay active, volunteering and reaching out to their elected officials."

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In the wake of Democrat candidates stepping into power, Reed said it's essential to hold them accountable throughout their terms. Planned Parenthood Keystone will be hard at work providing education and recruiting volunteers for the potential constitutional battle next year, she said.

All the while, the nonprofit will continue to expand access to abortion care.

"We know that we will see additional bans in neighboring states, so it's important that Pennsylvanians have access," Reed said.

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In addition to expanding appointment availability, Planned Parenthood Keystone has hired new abortion providers and added telemedicine abortion options.

The nonprofit is preparing to add abortion care in Lancaster County and expanding the gestational age for the in-clinic abortions they provide in York, Reed said.

"We're doing a lot to expand access to abortion in the state," she said, "to make it more accessible and more available to patients who need it."