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What the results of Pa. statehouse races could mean for abortion rights

  • Gabriela Martínez
More than 30 people gathered outside of the state Capitol on May 3, 2022 to protest the leaked draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would reverse Roe v. Wade.

 Jeremy Long / WITF

More than 30 people gathered outside of the state Capitol on May 3, 2022 to protest the leaked draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would reverse Roe v. Wade.

If Democrats win control of the Pennsylvania state House, Republican efforts to restrict abortion rights might never make it to the governor’s desk. 

But even if Republicans keep control, governor-elect Josh Shapiro is likely to veto any measure that would restrict abortion rights. 

Two House races, in Montgomery and Bucks counties, are too close to call, and special elections will be needed to fill three other House seats. So it’s still unclear which party will control the lower chamber.

Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery County, is chair of the Women’s Health Caucus. She said that with a Democratic majority, bills that would restrict abortion rights might not even be assigned to committees, which would be chaired by Democrats. 

The current minority chair of the health committee – Democrat Dan Frankel from Allegheny County — is the founding chair of the Women’s Health Caucus and has long opposed abortion restrictions.

Abortion rights advocates are concerned about Senate Bill 106, which would amend the state constitution to say it does not guarantee abortion rights or publicly-funded abortion. The bill has to pass again next year in order to be on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment.

If Democrats control the House, the bill might not come up for a vote.

But Jason Gottesman, spokesman for House Republicans, said it’s too early to talk about who will claim the majority. 

“We are continuing to closely monitor a number of races where votes are still being counted.”

Representative Kate Klunk, (R-York), supports abortion restrictions and echoed Gottesman.

“We will have to wait and see where things stand once election results are certified,” Klunk responded in an email.

Republicans hold the majority in the Senate. 

Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, (D-Montgomery) said “we will continue to put legislation together and advocate for those bills to move,” but having a GOP majority will likely mean that reproductive rights proposals might not move as readily. She said Democrats need to talk to Republicans “so they can have a true understanding of what happens” when abortion rights are restricted.

August polling from Franklin & Marshall College showed that 52% of Pennsylvania voters believe abortion should be legal in certain circumstances. Berwood Yost, director of the Center for Opinion Research and the director of the Floyd Institute for Public Policy, said their research shows abortion was a key issue in voters’ minds during the midterms.

“For a long time, Republicans could express opposition to abortion without real consequences, because there was nothing they could do from a constitutional standpoint, to change it,” Yost said. “The Dobbs decision changes that calculus.” 

He said voters who previously thought the issue would be decided only in court might now consider the issue when choosing candidates.

Gabriela Martínez is part of the “Report for America” program — a national service effort that places journalists in newsrooms across the country to report on under-covered topics and communities.

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