“Democrats Have to Get Out of Their Own Way”: Pennsylvania’s Next Governor Will Decide on Abortion Rights

For the last four years, Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor Tom Wolf’s veto has been the only thing preventing radical abortion bans from becoming law in the commonwealth. He is term-limited, and unable to run for reelection, setting up one of the most contentious governor’s races of this midterm cycle. The state’s primary took place just weeks before Roe was overturned, and now the rights of millions of Pennsylvanians will come down to the November election.

Democrats are running Josh Shapiro—the current Pennsylvania attorney general and a longtime abortion-rights advocate—to replace Wolf. He will be up against Republican Doug Mastriano—a Pennyslvania state senator whose views on abortion fall to the far fringe of his party. He’s been cited as part of a Christian-nationalist resurgence (though he has denied this label). While Pennsylvania played a consequential role in Joe Biden winning the 2020 presidential election, memories of Donald Trump’s victory in the state in 2016 are still fresh. It’s not far-fetched to envision Mastriano—who has aligned himself with Trump—winning the state. In many ways Mastriano embodies the emboldened far right of the party; he routinely amplified Trump’s claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, reportedly spent more than $3,000 in campaign funds sending Trump supporters to the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and was seen in video footage crossing barricades at the insurrection (the January 6 committee is investigating his role in the Capitol attack; Mastriano has said he did not cross any lines established by law enforcement), all while celebrating conservatives’ major wins in the courts.

“Democrats have to get out of their own way,” a Pennsylvania abortion advocate and longtime Democratic consultant tells me. “Republicans don’t play nice—they create their own rules. They don’t wait to be asked to come to the party.”

Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled General Assembly has passed three antiabortion bills during Wolf’s term to date. Wolf has vetoed them all, earning the nickname “Governor Veto” in political circles in the commonwealth. But it is clear that the Pennsylvania legislature has no intention of letting up on the issue. Just this week, the GOP-controlled Senate advanced a constitutional amendment that explicitly states there is no right to abortion or funding for abortions in the commonwealth. “The next governor is going to get a bill on his desk to ban abortion,” Shapiro stated bluntly, in an interview with Vanity Fair. The Dobbs ruling has ushered in a harsh reality, he said.

“I continue to say what I’ve said for the last 20 years, but what’s different now is the reaction I get from the public,” Shapiro said. “It is no longer a theoretical conversation, and particularly in Pennsylvania—and people get this no matter where I travel—in Pennsylvania, because of the makeup of our legislature and the fact that they routinely put bills on the governor’s desk to ban abortion, this is now an issue that is concrete and real.”

If that governor is Mastriano, it would become law. The Republican has been a leader in the antiabortion crusade during his time in elected office, having sponsored a bill to ban abortion at about six weeks. Even before the Dobbs ruling, Mastriano made his stance clear, dismissing the pro-abortion slogan “my body, my choice” as “ridiculous nonsense,” and sharing a cartoon that declared the Roe v. Wade decision was “so much” worse than the holocaust. Mastriano, too, has signaled an intention to restrain reproductive rights to an extent outside of the mainstream of the Republican Party. In a gubernatorial primary debate, Mastriano said banning abortion was his “number one issue” and that he wouldn’t support carve outs for the procedure in instances of rape or incest. “I don’t give a way for exceptions either.” He also supports criminal penalties for doctors who provide abortions. (Mastriano did not respond to Vanity Fair’s request for an interview.)

Currently in Pennsylvania, abortions are legal up until 24 weeks of pregnancy in all instances aside from abortions based on the sex of the fetus. (Later exceptions can be made in cases of emergency.) According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, there are 22 abortion providers in the commonwealth. In 2020, the most recent year that data from the state health department is available, more than 32,000 abortions were provided, and 93.3% were performed on residents of Pennsylvania.

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