SCOTUS opinion could put General Assembly in the driver’s seat on abortion rights

A leaked Supreme Court draft opinion signaling the High Court’s move to strike down federal abortion protections has sparked new debate about abortion policy in Pennsylvania and underscored the role that State lawmakers could have in determining abortion access in the state for years to come.

In the draft opinion, which was authored by Judge Samuel Alito and first reported by Politico, Alito writes that the Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade was “extremely wrong from the start” that the US Constitution does not explicitly protect the right to an abortion. The opinion does not represent the Court’s final decision, but would mark a major shift in abortion and leave it up to states to decide the issue of access to abortion – giving the General Assembly Pennsylvania a major power over what abortion access will look like in the Commonwealth if the Court decides to overturn the judgment.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are already bracing for what a post-Roe future might look like, with Democrats pledging to defend abortion rights at every turn. But Republicans who control the state legislature appear ready to rush the decision and achieve their long-sought goal of reducing abortions.

In a statement released this week, House Health Committee Chair Kathy Rapp, a key guardian of abortion law, said the draft opinion says “the scales of justice will weigh finally in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade”.

“Regardless of whether this leak, the United States Supreme Court’s preliminary ruling signals the final Armageddon for Roe v. Wade, as Majority Chairman of the House Health Committee and Majority Co-Chairman of the bipartisan Pro-Life Caucus, I can confirm that the Pennsylvania Legislature is already well positioned to successfully advance some of the strongest pro-life legislation in the history of our Commonwealth,” Rapp said in a statement.

All abortion-related bills must first pass through Rapp’s committee before being voted on by the State House, and Rapp has already led several bills through his committee that seek to restrict abortion. access to abortion.

This session, the House Health Committee approved several bills to ban abortion in certain circumstances. One, which was approved by the committee on May 25, 2021, would ban abortions based on a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. This bill, House Bill 1500, was approved by House lawmakers last June. The second bill approved by the committee, a so-called Heartbill Bill sponsored by State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, a Clinton County Republican, would ban abortions if heart activity can be detected in the uterus. This legislation, House Bill 904, was also defeated by the committee last May, but has yet to receive a vote in the House.

Any standard bill approved by lawmakers will be vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf. At a press conference in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Wolf reiterated his opposition to any legislative effort that would limit access to abortion. He called the draft notice quashing Roe v. Wade of “un-American” and “unacceptable”.

“Abortion is health care, and it should remain safe and legal,” Wolf said. “If the Supreme Court adopts this decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, it will jeopardize the right of every American to make their own private medical decisions.”

Wolf has regularly vetoed legislation to outlaw abortion in certain circumstances throughout his tenure, though he will leave office in 2013 due to its limited term, raising the stakes in the race for victory. governorship this year. And if lawmakers choose to try to circumvent Wolf’s office with a constitutional amendment, the Democratic governor would be powerless to try to stop such an effort because he cannot veto constitutional amendments.

Constitutional amendments must be passed by both houses of the legislature in two consecutive legislative sessions and then approved by voters in a referendum. A governor cannot approve or veto proposed constitutional amendments.

State Senator Judy Ward, a Republican from Blair County, led an effort to codify language in the state constitution that would emphasize that Pennsylvanians do not have the right to abortion — or the taxpayer financing of abortion services.

She said in a statement Thursday that her measure would not further restrict access to abortion per se. “Currently, Medicaid covers both non-elective abortions and voluntary abortions involving cases of rape or incest, but still withholds funding from all other elective bodies. If the constitutional amendment is approved by voters, that will not change,” Ward said. “The abortion control law will also remain the law. The language does not ban abortions, but rather ensures that abortion policy in Pennsylvania emanates from elected representatives of the people A spokesman for the Senate Republican Caucus said the Senate’s priorities would not change based on a leaked draft decision. “This matter remains with the United States Supreme Court until a opinion be given,” said GOP Senate spokeswoman Erica Clayton Wright. “The primary goal of the Pennsylvania Senate is to address the structural imbalance in our state’s economy, which is masked by the influ of funding related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is critical that we move Pennsylvania’s economy in the right direction and address the real effects that President Joe Biden’s economic plan is having on Pennsylvanians in the form of inflation, rising oil prices, energy and rising gas and food prices.

Jason Gottesman, spokesman for House Republicans, also said the House Republican Caucus was hesitant to base its decisions on the draft notice. Gottesman said a majority of Pennsylvanians oppose “unrestricted access to abortion,” citing a March 2022 Franklin & Marshall College poll that found 31% of voters support abortion under all circumstances — 53% think it should be legal in “certain circumstances” and 13% think it should be illegal.

“We will continue to review pending pro-life legislation and any further decisions will be made through the normal legislative process,” he said.

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