ABOR­TION IN PA. — WHAT’S AT STAKE?

State law­mak­ers’ stances of in­ter­est to vot­ers, es­pe­cially af­ter pres­i­dent promised to ap­point judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Times-Tribune - - CAPITOL WATCH - BY LASHERICA THORN­TON

Apo­lit­i­cal fault line opened in Dal­las in 1973, and it’s shap­ing Penn­syl­va­nia’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape in ways sel­dom seen be­fore.

The ground be­gan to move af­ter Norma Mc­cor­vey — bet­ter known by her pseu­do­nym, Jane Roe — chal­lenged Texas’ right to pro­hibit her from hav­ing an abor­tion. De­fend­ing the state was Dal­las County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Henry Wade.

More than 45 years later, the Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion in Roe v. Wade has be­come one of the stark­est di­vides among Amer­i­cans and a de­mar­ca­tion be­tween the coun­try’s dom­i­nant po­lit­i­cal par­ties. This year, it could be­come the key sep­a­ra­tion be­tween can­di­dates in Penn­syl­va­nia’s mar­quee races.

On one side are the in­cum­bent Democrats, abor­tion-rights Gov. Tom Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Scran­ton, son of an anti-abor­tion icon, whose com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with the is­sue has man­i­fested in a re­li­ably pro-choice vot­ing record.

On the other side are GOP chal­lengers Scott Wag­ner, the gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date and for­mer state sen­a­tor, and U.S. Rep. Lou Bar­letta of Hazleton, Casey’s chal­lenger. Both align with the GOP base, which has long sought to make abor­tion il­le­gal. That goal could be within reach. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump promised to ap­point judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade. He could be on the cusp of giv­ing so­cial con­ser­va­tives their big­gest vic­tory in a gen­er­a­tion with his nom­i­na­tion of Brett Ka­vanaugh for U.S. Supreme Court jus­tice. If the high court over­turns Roe, states will de­cide whether abor­tion is le­gal within their bor­ders.

“It is brought into clearer view for a lot of vot­ers when there’s such a mo­men­tous de­ci­sion, such as a Supreme Court nom­i­nee on the table, and I think that’s why vot­ers might be more at­ten­tive to the is­sue, more than they would in a nor­mal (elec­tion) cy­cle,” said Christo­pher Borick, po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor of Muh­len­berg Col­lege In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Opin­ion.

Wolf vs. Wag­ner

At least four pend­ing bills in the state Leg­is­la­ture would tighten — some say all but elim­i­nate — ac­cess to abor­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia. Wolf ’s cam­paign said that Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion and the peril it poses to abor­tion rights high­lights the con­trast of the can­di­dates and the im­por­tance of re-elect­ing Wolf as the “last line of de­fense to stand up for women’s rights.”

“It is very clear what would hap­pen if Scott Wag­ner is elected gov­er­nor,” Beth Me­lena, the com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for Wolf ’s cam­paign, said. “If a sixweek abor­tion bill reaches his desk, he will sign it, and then, women’s rights in Penn­syl­va­nia will be ab­so­lutely dec­i­mated.”

Wolf in mid-de­cem­ber ve­toed leg­is­la­tion spon­sored by Sen. Michele Brooks, R-mercer County, that would have banned abor­tions af­ter 20 weeks.

Wolf will do “ev­ery­thing in his power to stand up for a woman’s right to choose in Penn­syl­va­nia,” Me­lena said.

Planned Par­ent­hood plans to spend $1.5 mil­lion to help re-elect Wolf, said Sari Stevens, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

Repub­li­cans want to turn that sup­port into a li­a­bil­ity.

Ja­son Gottes­man, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for the state Repub­li­can Party, said Wolf sup­ports spe­cial in­ter­est groups that do­nate to his cam­paign and that they are his true con­stituency.

Wag­ner has faced crit­i­cism from the right and the left over his po­si­tion on abor­tion leg­is­la­tion.

Dur­ing the Repub­li­can pri­mary cam­paign, Wag­ner’s op­po­nent, Paul Mango, crit­i­cized Wag­ner for say­ing the Abor­tion Con­trol Act was do­ing its job and that he had no de­sire to change it.

En­acted in 1989 by the Penn­syl­va­nia Leg­is­la­ture and signed into law by Gov. Bob Casey, the Abor­tion Con­trol Act was the most sweep­ing at­tempt by a state to limit abor­tion rights since Roe v. Wade, and it even­tu­ally led to a land­mark Supreme Court case. The law set lim­its on abor­tion, in­clud­ing in­formed con­sent, parental con­sent for mi­nors, the 24-hour wait­ing pe­riod and re­port­ing re­quire­ments, as well as the un­chal­lenged pro­vi­sions of a 24-week cut­off — un­less the life of the mother is in dan­ger — and pro­hi­bi­tion of abor­tion based on gen­der.

But Wag­ner has shown his com­mit­ment to lim­it­ing abor­tions by co-spon­sor­ing and vot­ing for the 20-week abor­tion bill that Wolf ve­toed, said An­drew Romeo, spokesman for Wag­ner’s cam­paign.

The left crit­i­cized Wag­ner when, af­ter be­ing asked about the pos­si­bil­ity Roe v. Wade would be over­turned, he said “what­ever hap­pens, hap­pens.”

Democrats at­tacked Wag­ner’s state­ment as in­dif­fer­ent to the con­cerns of women.

Romeo said Wag­ner’s point was that the de­ci­sion be­longs to the ju­di­ciary and that he won’t have a say if the Supreme Court takes up a chal­lenge to Roe.

Gov­er­nor gets a say

But the next gov­er­nor will have a say in re­strict­ing abor­tion if the Supreme Court rolls back or elim­i­nates women’s rights to the pro­ce­dure. Pend­ing bills in the Gen­eral Assem­bly would do the fol­low­ing:

Ban abor­tions once a heart­beat is de­tected, spon­sored by Rep. Rick Sac­cone, R-al­legheny County.

Ban abor­tions af­ter 20 weeks, spon­sored by Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-war­ren County.

Out­law abor­tions based solely on a pre­na­tal di­ag­no­sis of Down syn­drome, in­tro­duced in the House by Speaker Mike Turzai, R-al­legheny County, and in the Se­nate by Scott Martin, R-lan­caster County.

State statute al­ready pro­hibits the abor­tion of a child based solely on gen­der. Martin said the ter­mi­na­tion rates for un­born chil­dren with pre­na­tal screen­ings

for Down syn­drome were ris­ing. The United States had an es­ti­mated ter­mi­na­tion rate for Down syn­drome of 67 per­cent from 1995 to 2011, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health.

Martin said his con­stituents sup­port the bill, even as the de­bate over abor­tion has been a “con­tentious one in our so­ci­ety.” For them, the fo­cus on Roe v. Wade is noth­ing new; it’s al­ways been rel­e­vant, Martin said.

Sim­i­lar bills have passed both cham­bers in the past, Martin said. None be­came law.

Wag­ner, if elected gov­er­nor, will change that, Martin said.

No room for com­pro­mise

Abor­tion has re­mained per­haps the most in­tractable is­sue in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics be­cause there’s so lit­tle room for com­pro­mise be­tween the two sides. Those who are anti-abor­tion be­lieve life be­gins at con­cep­tion; those who are in fa­vor of abor­tion rights tend to draw that line at vi­a­bil­ity.

And then there’s Sen. Bob Casey. He’s per­son­ally op­posed to abor­tion, while serv­ing as a prom­i­nent mem­ber of a party with van­ish­ingly lit­tle room for abor­tion rights op­po­nents. He’s the son of an anti-abor­tion cru­sader — Gov. Bob Casey de­fended Penn­syl­va­nia’s for­mer abor­tion re­stric­tions all the way to the Supreme Court, lead­ing to the big­gest de­ci­sion on the is­sue since Roe — who votes re­li­ably in fa­vor of pre­serv­ing abor­tion rights.

Casey an­nounced his op­po­si­tion to Ka­vanaugh be­fore Trump nom­i­nated him, but it wasn’t be­cause of abor­tion, he said. Rather, Casey said the process was flawed from the start.

Trump, dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, made the un­prece­dented move of promis­ing to choose any Supreme Court nom­i­nees from a list of judges ap­proved by the Fed­er­al­ist So­ci­ety and Her­itage Foun­da­tion, two con­ser­va­tive groups that have spent decades try­ing to re­shape the fed­eral bench.

The prom­ise shored up his sup­port among the GOP’S most im­por­tant vot­ing bloc, con­ser­va­tive evan­gel­i­cals, who had been wary of a thrice-mar­ried can­di­date whose per­sonal ties to re­li­gion were, at best, ten­u­ous.

Casey re­ferred to Trump’s out­sourc­ing of Supreme Court nom­i­nee selec­tion as a cor­rupt bar­gain to pack the court in ser­vice of a cor­po­rate agenda.

Con­firm­ing Ka­vanaugh

Penn­syl­va­nia’s other sen­a­tor, Repub­li­can Pat Toomey, told re­porters he had a “de­light­ful” con­ver­sa­tion with Ka­vanaugh and will vote to con­firm him. As is cus­tom, Ka­vanaugh is in the process of hav­ing one-on-one meet­ings with sen­a­tors.

Toomey said his char­ac­ter, in­tel­lect and, par­tic­u­larly, his ju­di­cial phi­los­o­phy or orig­i­nal­ism — that is, in­ter­pret­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion as it was un­der­stood when it was writ­ten — would make him a great jus­tice.

“Un­like my Demo­cratic col­leagues, I don’t have a set of pol­icy tests for a judge or a jus­tice, pre­cisely be­cause that is not the role of a judge or a jus­tice,” Toomey said. “His or her job is not to de­cide what they think is the op­ti­mal pol­icy and im­pose that on Amer­ica.”

Toomey also asked his col­leagues across the par­ti­san aisle to give Ka­vanaugh fair con­sid­er­a­tion, while ex­press­ing con­fi­dence in a bi­par­ti­san con­fir­ma­tion vote.

Con­firm­ing Ka­vanaugh be­fore Elec­tion Day could di­min­ish the abor­tion is­sue for Se­nate can­di­dates while high­light­ing it for gu­ber­na­to­rial and leg­isla­tive can­di­dates, who soon could be in a po­si­tion to sign or veto new re­stric­tions, said Terry Madonna, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Pol­i­tics and Pub­lic Af­fairs at Franklin & Mar­shall Col­lege.

It will “def­i­nitely ratchet up in­ter­est at all lev­els,” Madonna said.

Cour­tesy of The Cau­cus

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