After Roe leak, abortion in Pennsylvania could hinge on this year’s election


A U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case establishing a federal right to abortion, drew strong reactions and backlash Tuesday in Philadelphia.

The leaked document, published by Politico on Monday night and later acknowledged by the court, also highlighted the importance of the May 17 primary and November’s general election, when Pennsylvanians will select a governor and fill an open U.S. Senate seat.

Jack Parr, 18, of Long Island, New York and Lexi Plaisted, 18, of Philadelphia, gather with other protestors outside the Supreme Court to react to the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for a majority of the court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision later this year.REUTERS/Moira Warburton

Unlike some other states, Pennsylvania does not have a “trigger law” that would go into effect, meaning abortion would remain legally protected — at least in the short-term — even if the justices tossed out Roe.

But state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor, warned that GOP leaders in Harrisburg would act quickly to try to ban or restrict the procedure.

“Our Democratic governor’s veto pen is really the only protection we have to protect the right to choose here in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat whose final term expires at the end of the year, vowed that abortion would remain “legal and safe” as long as he is in office.

“I will continue to veto any legislation that threatens access to abortion and women’s health care,” he said in a statement. Wolf has previously refused to sign several bills aimed at restricting the procedure.

Current state law permits abortion until 24 weeks of pregnancy, which is considered the point when the fetus is viable.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, referred to the Roe decision as “one of the darkest days in American history” and said he would push for a vote on his “heartbeat bill” in Harrisburg if the court officially overturned the ruling.

The legislation would prohibit abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which usually occurs at around nine weeks into the pregnancy.

Former Congressman Lou Barletta, who is also running in the GOP primary for governor, said the majority opinion, if finalized, would be “a long-awaited victory for unborn children.”

“As I have made clear, I will not prejudge or predict what kinds of legislation may come before me, but I will be a pro-life governor, and I will sign pro-life legislation,” he said in a statement.

Shapiro promised to veto any anti-abortion bills and said he plans to campaign aggressively on the issue in the coming months.

“The next governor is going to have a bill on their desk that will restrict or outlaw abortion rights,” he added. “My opponents would sign it.”

Supporters of legal abortion were planning to rally in Center City outside the federal courthouse and City Hall on Tuesday evening after Metro went to print.

Local Democrats urged action to preserve abortion rights to circumvent the potential Supreme Court decision, which was expected to be issued this summer.

U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, of Philadelphia, called on federal lawmakers to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify the national right to abortion.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a favorite to emerge from the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, indicated he would vote to scrap the filibuster and adopt the abortion rights legislation.

“Let’s be clear: The right to an abortion is sacred,” he said in a statement.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, another Democratic Senate hopeful, went a step further, saying he would support expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court to alter the body’s conservative majority.

Councilmember Kendra Brooks referred to abortion rights as “life-affirming.”Metro file

Meanwhile, the news of Roe’s possible demise sparked a mix of emotions, largely along partisan lines.

Kathy Barnette, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, posted a video explaining that she was born after her 11-year-old mother was raped by an older man. “In the world the Left desires, I would never have been born,” she wrote on social media.

City Councilmember Kendra Brooks said she has had an abortion, and she called access to the procedure a “life-affirming policy.”

“Since reading the Supreme Court draft majority opinion on Roe v. Wade, my heart has been on fire,” Brooks said. “I feel consumed by rage, sorrow and grief.”

A 2014 Pew Research Center poll found that 51% of Pennsylvanians agree that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 44% believe it should be outlawed or prohibited in most circumstances.

In 2020, the last year for which data is available, about 32,000 abortions were performed in the state, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Philadelphia residents accounted for more than a third of those procedures — 11,301.

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