Reproductive rights on the ballot in 2022

York Dispatch editorial board
Abortion rights advocates demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a 2018 law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments in a case that will very likely lead to abortion rights being diluted, if not outright reversed, in many parts of the country.

It’s not that the arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case involving a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, are any stronger than those made in similar cases the court has rejected in recent years. They’re not.

It’s that the court has a new 6-3 conservative majority, courtesy of former President Donald Trump’s willingness to nominate hard-right justices and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s hypocritical manipulation of Senate norms, and it is all but visibly salivating at the opportunity to restrict American women’s access to safe abortion services.

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If the court, as expected, upholds the 15-week ban, the door will be open for similar rollbacks in abortion access nationwide. If the court, as is possible, overturns the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision entirely, laws dictating abortion will be left up to individual states.

Anyone who thinks that might not lead to new restrictions to abortion access in Pennsylvania isn’t paying attention.

State law currently permits abortions up to about 24 weeks — the standard set in Roe v. Wade. But as in many other states, a laundry list of amendments and provisions have, at best, complicated the process. More seriously, half a dozen measures to restrict abortion access have been proposed in the state’s General Assembly in the past five years and three have reached Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk. The Democratic governor vetoed all of them.

That would almost certainly not have been the case under a Republican governor. Advocates of reproductive rights would have no such protection from measures such as that proposed by state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, who joined GOP colleagues in introducing a bill this year that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected; roughly six weeks into a pregnancy.

Mastriano is not the only state Republican mulling a gubernatorial run who is hostile to reproductive rights. Lou Barletta’s campaign website tout’s the former Republican congressman’s 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee and his intention, if elected governor, of “defunding radical organizations like Planned Parenthood.” And neither Jake Corman, Charlie Gerow nor any of the other declared or likely GOP candidates have bucked the party’s anti-abortion orthodoxy.

All of which means, with term-limited Wolf on his way out, abortion rights will be very much on the ballot in next year’s gubernatorial election.

Wolf declared as much in a statement following last week’s Supreme Court arguments.

“The Supreme Court ruling could have tremendous implications on abortion bans throughout our nation and negatively affect women, birthing people, and families making deeply personal decisions,” he said. “We must take this as a reminder that your vote matters and the future of your health care depends on it.”

More than a reminder; Pennsylvania voters who support a women’s right to choose should take it as mandate.

The Republican-led state legislature is already actively attempting to scale back reproductive rights in Pennsylvania. Only Gov. Wolf’s veto pen has held off these efforts.

Regardless of the high court’s ruling, the GOP-led assault on women’s rights will continue. Pennsylvania’s voters must make this one of the motivating factors, not only in their decision to head to the polls in 2022, but in whom to vote for.