After the leak of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion indicating that 5 conservative justices on the United States Supreme Court will soon overturn Roe v. Wade, and end the constitutional right to an abortion, the debate on abortion rights has intensified on a national scale. Supporters of reproductive rights are even more concerned now that Justice Alito’s draft opinion is a clear indicator that this half-century-old landmark decision will end this year, which will open the door for many Republican-led state legislatures to restrict or outright ban the right to an abortion. There are some state legislatures that support a ban on abortions, regardless of cases of sexual assault, incest, or the woman’s life being endangered by the pregnancy.
Pennsylvania currently has many restrictions on abortion rights, many of which were put in place by the Abortion Control Act of 1982. Among other restrictions in the state right now, a patient must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage the patient from having an abortion, and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided; health plans offered on the state’s health care marketplace under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment, or in cases of rape or incest, unless individuals purchase an optional rider at an additional cost; abortion is covered in insurance policies for public employees only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest; the parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided; and public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.
Governor Tom Wolf in his first press release since the leak has emphasized that should the opinion become the Supreme Court’s final decision, abortion access in Pennsylvania will remain legal and safe as long as he is governor. However, Tom Wolf is reaching the end of his term and will not be in office next year. Reproductive rights advocates are now paying close attention to Pennsylvania’s upcoming governor race, where the only candidate who has vowed to continue protecting women’s reproductive rights is Josh Shapiro, who has served as the Attorney General for Pennsylvania since 2017, and has a notable track record of defending reproductive rights for women in Erie County.
While he is still Pennsylvania’s governor, Tom Wolf, along with 16 other governors across the nation are reaching out to Congress calling for immediate passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that passed the House last year but failed to pass the Senate. This bill would prohibit governmental restrictions on the provision of, and access to, abortion services. In addition to that, governments may not limit a provider’s ability to prescribe certain drugs, offer abortion services via telemedicine, or immediately provide abortion services when the provider determines a delay risks the patient’s health. Passage of this bill in the future will ensure, regardless of whatever decision the Supreme Court reaches, the right to safe abortion care will be a federally protected right throughout the United States.