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Pennsylvania politicians respond to SCOTUS decision to overturn Roe v. Wade

Lindsay Lazarski

Reaction to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling from Pennsylvania politicians was swift but not unexpected. And while Democrats sounded alarm bells about what the ruling could mean, Republicans handled the ruling more gingerly.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, for one,has cosponsored a "fetal heartbeat" bill that would drastically restrict abortion access to the six weeks following conception, and that does not provide exceptions for cases of rape or incest. In a statement issued hours after the ruling was handed down, Mastriano hailed the fact that court decisions upholding abortion rights had been "rightly relegated to the ash heap of history," and said "Pennsylvania must be prepared to lead the nation in being a voice for the voiceless." 

But his statement quickly added that the ruling "must not take our focus away from the key issues facing Pennsylvania families," such as gas prices and inflation.

“Pennsylvanians will not be distracted by the hysterics of the left as they exploit this ruling to try to fulfill their far-left agenda," he said.

Mastriano's Democratic rival, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, had more to say about the ruling, calling it "a devastating day for America" in a tweeted response.

In a lunchtime press call with reporters, Shapiro said, "I feel and hear the hurt and the anger and the sadness of women in Pennsylvania who are seeing rights stripped away from them." Given a legislature that had already passed bills to restrict abortion access, he said, "There is one way only to ensure that abortion remains legal in Pennsylvania, which is winning this governor's race."

Shapiro's lieutenant governor running mate, state Rep. Austin Davis, argued that the ruling is "especially dangerous for Black women in Pennsylvania," who are "three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than other women."

Shapiro also issued a statement in his capacity as attorney general, in which he called the ruling a "shameful moment" that meant "every American's personal freedoms now depend on the state in which they live."

Still, he reiterated that for the time being, at least, the ruling did not change abortion access in the state, and "anyone who tries to threaten or undermine the fundamental freedoms of Pennsylvania women will have to go through the Office of Attorney General first."

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey struck a similar note of defiance and reassurance. Calling the ruling "an attack on the civil and human rights of our entire country," Gainey pledged "I will do whatever it takes to protect and defend that right in Pittsburgh and across our entire Commonwealth. We must ensure that people can make decisions about their bodies, their lives and their futures."

But as if to underscore the ruling's stakes for the future of abortion rights in Pennsylvania, Republican leaders in the state House issued a statement of their own. It noted that the state's abortion law was not immediately affected by the ruling, but added, "This ruling presents a necessary opportunity to examine our existing abortion law, and discussions around possible changes are already underway."

While the court's decision does envision the issue being decided at the state level, federal officeholders also weighed in.

Outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf, who once served as an escort outside abortion clinics, tweeted that it was a "dark day for reproductive rights in America. But I want every Pennsylvanian to know abortion services are available and unharmed by today's ruling. To women and pregnant people in surrounding states and across the country where this isn't the case: You are safe here."

There are expectations that abortion providers in Pittsburgh and the rest of the state may see more patients from outlying states with stricter lawsagainst abortion, but Wolf noted that abortion access in Pennsylvania, too, is at risk.

"We're approaching a critical election cycle," he noted. "I cannot stress enough how important it is to vote."

In a statement, outgoing U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey hailed the ruling, saying it "restores the American people's ability to determine abortion laws through their elected representatives ... This ruling is a win for the unborn, the Constitution and democratic governance."

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democrat who hopes to replace Toomey next year, said "If there were any doubts left about what's at stake in this race, it became crystal clear today. The right to an abortion will be on the ballot this November in Pennsylvania."

That is most obviously true in the race for governor, rather than the U.S. Senate, but Fetterman has pledged to support legislation that would codify abortion rights at the national level — and to overturn the Senate filibuster if necessary to do so.

Fetterman's opponent this November, Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz, issued a statement several hours after the ruling was handed down. It acknowledged that the decision "is to many considered controversial. I respect those with a different view, but as a heart surgeon, I’ve held the smallest of human hearts in the palm of my hand and will defend the sanctity of life. I am relieved that protecting the lives of America’s unborn children will once again be decided by the people through their elected representatives."

Sen. Bob Casey, who has long identified as being pro-life but who has through the years become a closer ally on reproductive health issues, said the decision "upends almost a half-century of legal precedent" — including a court decision that bears the name of his father, the former governor of Pennsylvania.

"This dangerous ruling won't end abortions in this country, but it will put women's lives at risk," he said. Warning that the ruling could make it possible for congressional Republicans to pass a nationwide ban, he added, "Our daughters and granddaughters should not grow up with fewer rights than their mothers."

The ruling also seems likely to play a role in U.S. House races, including the hotly contested 17th Congressional District outside of Pittsburgh. Democrat Chris Deluzio called the decision "a threat to the basic human right of autonomy" in a social media post. His Republican rival, Jeremy Shaffer, did not offer a response Friday morning, but he has said in the pastthat while he favors a rollback of Roe, decisions about abortion should be handled at the state level — or through a Constitutional amendment to bar the practice.

Corrected: June 26, 2022 at 11:50 AM EDT
Updated to correct spelling.
Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.