Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on Friday, Pennsylvania Senate Democrats proposed codifying abortion rights by state statute. 

State Senator Katie Muth (D-Royersford) circulated a memorandum asking Senate colleagues to co-sponsor the legislation that would keep the practice legal in Pennsylvania. So far, State Senators Amanda Cappelletti (D-Norristown), Lindsey Williams (D-Pittsburgh), Maria Collett (D-North Wales), Judith Schwank (D-Reading), Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia), and Carolyn Comitta (D-West Chester) have signed onto the measure.

While Roe generally disallowed pro-life legislators to restrict abortion in the Keystone State and in the rest of America, they were able to make some limitations via the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act, a law that passed in 1989 and went into effect in 1994 after a long court injunction. The act requires that at least one parent consent for an unemancipated minor to get an abortion. 

The law further stipulates that abortion providers must inform the woman about the gestation and development of her preborn baby as well as the physical risks associated with the procedure and available alternatives. If a woman seeks an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, it must be for reasons related to health risk. 

Nonetheless, unlike 22 states, Pennsylvania does not further restrict abortion in its criminal code via any statute that would be activated in the event of Roe’s demise. The 1973 ruling’s reversal therefore does not itself change any state policy.

Still, Muth and other bill backers made clear in their memo their hope to make the commonwealth’s abortion policy explicitly permissive.

“With Roe v. Wade overturned by a partisan Supreme Court earlier today, the fight will now be left up to the states,” the senators wrote. “Pennsylvania cannot remain silent in defending a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. We cannot and we will never back down in the fight to protect our rights, our bodies and our right to choice.”

Muth’s proposal appears to face long odds; no Republicans, who constitute a Senate majority, have yet signaled support for it. Of the chamber’s 28-member GOP caucus, only two members – Lisa Baker (R-Dallas) and Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) have cast pro-abortion votes in the past. Both voted against a bill to prohibit terminating pregnancies solely because of a prenatal Down-syndrome diagnosis and against a measure to ban abortion at 20 weeks post-implantation or later. 

Among the Senate’s 21 Democrats, only Jim Brewster (D-Monroeville) tends to vote pro-life, having backed both the Down syndrome protection bill and the 20-week policy. The Senate’s only independent, John Yudichak (I-Nanticoke) – a longtime Democrat who dropped his affiliation and caucused with the Republicans in 2019 – has a mixed record, having supported the Down-syndrome measure but not the 20-week legislation.  

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Democrats seeking statewide office are blasting last week’s court ruling. Gubernatorial candidate and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) called it “devastating.” Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for Senate, on Sunday called abortion’s legality “non-negotiable.” 

Their respective Republican opponents, State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Gettysburg) and surgeon Mehmet Oz have welcomed the decision.

“[The Supreme Court] has put the issue in the hands of the voters where it belongs,” Mastriano said in a statement. 

– – –

Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Senator Katie Muth” by Senator Katie Muth. Photo “Senator Amanda Cappelletti” by Senator Amanda Cappelletti. Photo “Senator Lindsey Williams” by Senator Lindsey Williams. Photo “Senator Maria Collett” by Senator Maria Collett. Photo “Senator Judy Schwank” by Senator Judy Schwank. Photo “Senator Tina Tartaglione” by Senator Tina Tartaglione. Photo “Senator Carolyn Comitta” by Senator Carolyn Comitta. Background Photo “Pennsylvania State Capitol” by Dough4872. CC BY-SA 4.0.