Roe decision raises stakes in Pa. races

York Dispatch editorial board

While hardly a surprise, given the leak of a draft opinion back in May, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn federal protections for abortion rights established in Roe v. Wade was nonetheless a visceral blow to millions of American women, emotionally, politically and existentially.

Republican-led states, anticipating the court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, gleefully put in place abortion-reversing “trigger laws” designed to go into effect upon the overturning of Roe. Some took effect immediately; others will be in place over the next few weeks. The upshot: Access to legal abortions will be illegal in roughly half the nation by the end of the summer.

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That will not include Pennsylvania, where Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has remained steadfast in protecting women’s reproductive rights. At least not yet. But with the term-limited governor’s office on the ballot in November, Republican leaders in the state Legislature are already crafting potential restrictions to abortion access.

“This ruling presents a necessary opportunity to examine our existing abortion law, and discussions around possible changes are already underway,” said House Speaker Bryan Cutler and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff in a joint statement.

And by “possible changes,” they mean “wholesale reversals.”

That makes the race for governor the most consequential decision facing Pennsylvania’s voters this fall. The choice couldn’t be starker. Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro is a staunch supporter of abortion rights. In fact, he held a rally in Philadelphia to defend those rights barely 24 hours after the Supreme Court decision was announced.

Republican candidate Doug Mastriano has already authored measures to restrict abortion access as a state senator and would lose no time in signing a bill banning abortion in the state, given the chance.

If the health, safety and autonomy of Pennsylvania’s women is to be safeguarded, he must not be given that chance.

That goes for congressional candidates as well.

Giddy with their success on the Roe front, antiabortion activists and lawmakers are planning further restrictions. A national prohibition on abortion is high on the list. (Yes, that runs counter to the current GOP talking point that such decisions should be made at the state level, but so does the Supreme Court’s ruling, one day before Dobbs, that gun-safety measures cannot be made at the state level. They pause at neither the inconsistency nor the hypocrisy.)

Blocking the purchase of online abortion medications and even preventing women from traveling out of state to obtain reproductive services are in the hopper.

Sending politicians who will defend reproductive rights to Washington is the best way to counter these efforts. That includes Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman and York-area congressional candidates Shamaine Daniels and Robert Hollister.

And don’t think conservative shredding of rights ends with issues related to abortion. In his concurring opinion on Dobbs, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that due process precedents protecting LGBTQ rights and access to contraceptives should also be revisited.

That’s right: If Thomas and his ilk have their way, the Dobbs decision — the summary amputation of a constitutional right dating back two generations — would be not the culmination of a decades-long conservative campaign, but the starting gun for a marathon of rights reversals.

Joining Thomas in the 5-4 decision to overturn Roe were fellow conservative justices Samuel Alito and Donald Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. The fact that three of these justices were appointed by a president who lost the popular vote (four if we include Alito, appointed by George W. Bush, who likewise landed in the Oval Office thanks to the outdated Electoral College), did not curtail their brazenness in reversing a long-held constitutional right.

It’s hard to imagine what will.

All of which is why voters must make support for reproductive rights a prerequisite for all candidates seeking office in Pennsylvania in this fall’s elections. And in every election thereafter. 

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