Fears escalate over abortion access as Tom Wolf’s tenure comes to an end


When Governor Tom Wolf steps down in 2023 after eight years as chief executive of Pennsylvania, his legacy will be marked not only by the bills he has enacted, but also those he has rejected. Wolf, a former Planned Parenthood volunteer, will be remembered for his unwavering support for abortion rights – refusing bill after bill that would have restricted access to abortion.

Advocates of abortion access have presented Wolf as a key advocate for the right to choose amid efforts by legislative Republicans to ban abortions. But now that the Supreme Court of the United States has refused to block a Texas law banning most abortions in the state, abortion rights advocates in Pennsylvania fear the court’s conservative majority will jeopardize a long-standing abortion precedent. That, coupled with Wolf’s impending departure, could lead to a perfect political storm that would lead to a drastic rollback in abortion rights. And that worries some defenders.

Since taking office in 2015, Wolf has pushed back against attempts by lawmakers to restrict access to abortion in Pennsylvania. In 2017, he vetoed Senate Bill 3, which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks and made no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. In 2019, Wolf turned down a bill to the state Representative Kate Klunk which would have prohibited abortions performed on the basis of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

And last year, Wolf vetoed a bill establish regulations on telemedicine, as this would have prevented health care providers from prescribing drugs used to induce abortions.

In an interview with City & State, Wolf said his dedication to protecting access to abortion stems from the idea that politicians should not dictate decisions made between a patient and her doctor.

“I don’t think politics has a place in the doctor’s office,” Wolf said. “I think the position that I and other pro-choicers take is just that nature has given us all a very difficult decision here. The question is not whether we have a choice to make – we do. The question is who will make this choice. And it seems to me that the person who should make that choice, who knows the most about what is going on, is the person most directly involved and that is the woman.

With just over a year remaining in power, advocates supporting access to abortion see the governor’s impending exit as bittersweet. On the one hand, Wolf was a crucial backstop who firmly supported their cause. The flip side, however, reveals an uncertain political landscape in Harrisburg that will be guided by who wins the governorship in 2022.

“Wolf’s veto has ended multiple attacks on abortion access in Pennsylvania,” said Espinoza sign, Interim Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates. “Without this commitment to block all the anti-abortion attacks we’ve seen, the barriers to accessing care would be much more difficult than they already are for most people in the state. “

That’s not to say Wolf doesn’t have his detractors. Anti-abortion advocates believe Wolf’s tough stance on protecting access to abortion ignores the lives of unborn children.

Dan Bartkowiak, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Family Institute, a conservative nonprofit organization that recently hosted the first “Walk for Life” event in Pennsylvania, said Wolf’s views on abortion were “extreme” and “off the wall”. of contact “.

Bartkowiak accused Wolf of doing “the Planned Parenthood tender” and criticized the governor for vetoing Klunk’s legislation that would have banned abortions based on a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Bartkowiak said Wolf had advocated for “full-stage, unrestricted abortion” throughout his two terms. “I think it’s just very extreme and out of touch with Pennsylvanian values,” Bartkowiak said. “It underscores how extreme he was on this issue during his tenure.”

Wolf had a different view of his heritage. He said his vetoes were a determined effort to defend access to abortion and said that once his term was over he wanted Pennsylvanians to remember one thing: “It was I who held on. Well. ”

Despite their ideological differences, Wolf, Espinoza, and Bartkowiak all agreed that 2022 would be a pivotal year for the future of abortion access.

Espinoza said control of the executive branch will determine the direction of abortion policy. “We’re literally one election away from becoming essentially Texas,” she said.

The new Texas law, signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, prohibits performing abortions if cardiac activity can be detected in the uterus. This activity can usually be detected around six weeks gestation, making Texas law one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

The new law also includes a mechanism for citizens to bring civil suits against anyone who performs, induces, assists, encourages or pays for an abortion.

Unlike Wolf, Abbott has made the abortion ban a central point of his legislative agenda since taking office. In his State of State address in February, Abbott pledged to protect unborn children from abortions, saying the state needed “a law that ensures that the life of every child will be spared the ravages of abortion ”.

Abbott got the law he was looking for in Senate Bill 8, which he quickly promulgated. It came into effect in September, with the Supreme Court refusing to prevent the law from coming into force – a decision that has worried abortion access advocates who fear the lack of action by the law. High Court would be a sign of how it might rule on a Upcoming case centered on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban.

But where some see a dangerous precedent, others see an opportunity.

Developments in Texas have reignited a nationwide conversation about abortion policy, and with a gubernatorial race on the horizon, anti-abortion advocates in Pennsylvania see a chance to rewrite Pennsylvania’s laws on abortion. abortion in the not so distant future.

Harrisburg state lawmakers have repeatedly introduced bills banning abortions once heart activity is detected in the womb. The most recent versions of these bills have been sponsored by the state Representative Stéphanie Borowicz and state Senator Doug Matriano, rumored to be interested in running for governor in 2022.

Other Republican candidates who have officially declared their candidacy – including former United States Representative Lou Barletta, former US Attorney Bill McSwain, political strategist Charlie gerow and lawyer Jason richey – pledged to support more conservative abortion policies if elected.

Having a curator in the governor’s mansion would dramatically change the political calculus in Harrisburg, meaning past attempts to restrict access to abortion could find new success.

“This issue is going to have a significant impact on the upcoming elections,” Bartkowiak said. “Obviously, having someone who recognizes the humanity of the unborn child more is going to help save lives and help more in Pennsylvania. “

With Republicans controlling both houses of the General Assembly, political support is there to push more restrictive abortion policies onto the governor’s office. Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler and Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward both expressed support for the advancement of such legislation.

Wolf, however, hopes his successor shares his stance on abortion. Attorney General Josh Shapiro is expected to come forward to replace Wolf, and while he has yet to announce his candidacy, he is also committed to championing access to abortion at all times.

The race to replace Wolf is still in its infancy, and while there are many disagreements and political battles along the way, it is clear that the future of state abortion laws will be a point. central among the candidates for the post of governor in 2022.

And with just over a year to go, Wolf wants voters to carefully weigh their options.

“These are attacks on democracy, these are attacks on freedom. What happened in Texas, I think, is an indication of what would happen in Pennsylvania if the Republicans entered the gubernatorial race in 2022, ”he said. “There you have a glimpse of what to expect. “


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