The Philadelphia Tribune: Fight for abortion rights to shift to states, U.S. Congress

The fight for abortion rights is shifting to the U.S. Congress, state legislatures and the governor’s offices in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation, Democratic activists said this week, after a preliminary vote of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and abortion rights was leaked to the news media.

If the court strikes down abortion rights, then each state legislature and governor will have jurisdiction over abortion rights. The U.S. Congress can also make abortion rights law, if they have the votes. The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote next week to codify abortion rights into federal law.

In the disproportionately poor Black and brown communities in Philadelphia and throughout the U.S., there is fear that making abortions illegal won’t stop them, but will move the procedure to the back alleys, as was the case before abortions were legal, supporters of abortion rights said.

By contrast, wealthy women, who tend to be disproportionately white, will still have access to abortions by going to doctors in Canada, Mexico and throughout the world.

U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans said the draft Supreme Court opinion would have “a disproportionate impact” on Black and brown women.

“I voted for the Women’s Health Protection Act when it passed the House last September. That was over seven months ago — it’s time for the Senate to hear the voices of tens of millions of American women and allies who support reproductive freedom — and act!,” Evans said. “The Senate has made more than 160 exceptions to the filibuster — the ‘Swiss cheese filibuster,’ as I call it. It is time for senators to make an exception to protect one of Americans’ most fundamental rights — the right to choose.”

According to Evans, abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania and nationwide today. “This decision is not yet official, even though it is alarming,” Evans said. “If you need abortion care in Pennsylvania, you are still free to seek it. I am grateful that Gov. Tom Wolf has repeatedly used his veto to protect these rights from the Republican-led legislature.”

But Wolf is a lame duck governor and the primary election for state House, state Senate and governor is May 17. Pennsylvanians will elect a new governor Nov. 8. All Pennsylvania Democrats running for U.S. Senate support abortion rights. Most of the Republican candidates support some form of abortion restrictions.

And mid-term elections for Congress and Senate nationwide are underway.

Democratic candidate for governor and State Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a news media call with reporters Tuesday that, abortion will, in effect, remain legal until 24 weeks under our current state law, which is known as the Abortion Control Act of 1982.

“But here’s what is also not only likely to happen, seems to be a guarantee that will happen, and that is that Republicans in our state legislature will try to pass a near total ban on abortion in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said. “In fact, the front-runner in the GOP primary for governor called for that again this morning. Our Democratic governor’s veto pen is really the only protection we have to protect the right to choose here in Pennsylvania.”

The controversy has caused groups on both sides to show up at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., and federal courthouses at cities throughout the U.S., including Philadelphia.

Sen. Bob Casey, one of the few Democrats who opposes abortion, said in a statement on Twitter: “I have serious concerns about what overturning almost 50 years of legal precedent will mean for women in states passing near or total bans on abortion. Congress should be working to reduce the numbers of abortions and unintended pregnancies and doing much more to support women and families.”

According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll taken last week, most of the respondents or 54% said Roe v. Wade and should be upheld, compared to 28%, who disagreed.

In a statement, the Congressional Black Caucus said outlawing abortion will fundamentally change the country.

“Overturning Roe v. Wade will have disproportionately devastating impacts on communities of color, marginalized groups already facing discriminatory obstacles to health care, and will resonate globally. Elections have consequences,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman and U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty. “To the women of America, I speak directly to you: Your right to make personal health care decisions is still the law of the land. And while this opinion marks an unprecedented attack on our womanhood, the Congressional Black Caucus will continue fighting to protect every woman’s bodily autonomy. It is time to abolish the filibuster and pass the Women’s Health Protection Act. It is critical in this moment to remember the human tragedy of this decision. A woman’s right to govern her body is a fundamental human right, which must be enshrined in law.”

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, all of the top Republican candidates for governor said they want to ban abortion, Shapiro said.

“Let me be clear where I stand. I will veto any and all of those bills that restrict the right to abortion here in Pennsylvania. There’s a broader issue here, and it really relates to our fundamental freedoms. And I’m committed to ensuring that Pennsylvania remains a place where freedom is respected, and everyone has the ability to live and work and thrive,” Shapiro said. “Every Pennsylvanian should be able to raise a family on their own terms, and that means deciding if and when and how they want to do that. I’ve always protected the right to choose and as governor, I will veto any bill that restricts the right to an abortion. And there is one way, and one way only, for us to ensure that women have the legal right to continue to make decisions over their own bodies in Pennsylvania — and that is winning this governor’s race. I’m prepared to do that. I’m prepared to fight like hell for the fundamental freedoms of all Pennsylvanians and make sure that abortion remains legal in Pennsylvania.”

According to news media reports, President Joe Biden and his advisers are trying to figure out a response to the news including passing the Women’s Health Protection Act.

According to the state Department of Health, there were 32,123 abortions performed in Pennsylvania in 2020. Nearly half, 14,813 of abortions performed in Pennsylvania were to white women, compared with 14,177 to African-American women. Abortions to women of Hispanic origin accounted for 3,479, or 10.9%, of all abortions in 2020. More than 88% or 28,281 of the abortions performed in Pennsylvania in 2020 were to unmarried women. The largest age group having abortions was 25-29, accounting for 9,841 or 30.6 % of all 2020 abortions.

Women under age 20 accounted for 7.9% of all abortions in 2020 in the state, and women under age 18 accounted for 2.4%. By comparison, in 2019, women under age 20 accounted for 8.2% and women under age 18 accounted for 2.4%.