- Pennsylvania Republicans are seeking a constitutional amendment stating there is no right to an abortion.
- The proposed amendment would be put to voters in a referendum.
- Republicans fear Pennsylvania's Supreme Court, led by Democrats, could rule there is a right to an abortion.
Pennsylvania Republicans are advancing a measure that, if approved by voters in a referendum, would alter the state's constitution to explicitly deny the right to an abortion.
On Friday, the state voted along party lines 28-22 to approve a package of proposed amendments to the Pennsylvania constitution, including a last-minute addition that would require voters to show identification at polling places, not just – as under existing law – when they register to vote.
It could be as late as 2024 before the amendments are put to voters, even if the state house approves them later this month. In Pennsylvania, proposed constitutional amendments need to be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions before they can be put on the ballot — meaning Republicans will have to maintain control of the legislature after elections this fall.
Polls suggest most Pennsylvanians support the legal right to terminate a pregnancy. The Republican nominee for governor, state Sen. Doug Mastriano — who supports a total ban on abortion, with no exception for the life of the mother — has even conceded the issue benefits his Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
But residents of the commonwealth have approved many changes to the constitution in the past. According to Spotlight PA, since 1968 voters have approved 43 changes and rejected six. In 2021, for example, voters approved a GOP-sponsored amendment that stripped the state's governor of the ability to impose emergency declarations, including public health measures.
The constitutional amendment process also allows Pennsylvania's Republican-led legislature to bypass a veto from Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, or any successor.
Republican backers of the abortion amendment argue that it would merely prevent courts from deciding the question of its legality or whether the state's Medicaid program should be required to fund the medical procedure.
Pennsylvania's Supreme Court, an elected body led by Democrats, is currently considering a 2019 lawsuit from abortion providers seeking to overturn the ban on Medicaid funding.
"This constitutional amendment will just go to the people, and it allows us in the legislature the ability to set these rules and laws concerning abortion in this commonwealth," state Sen. Judy Ward, a Republican, said in a floor speech, The Pennsylvania Capital-Star reported.
The proposed text states that the "policy of Pennsylvania is to protect the life of every unborn child from conception to birth." It does not list any exceptions. It also asserts that nothing in the state constitution "requires taxpayer funding of abortion."
In a fiery floor speech Thursday night, state Sen. Katie Muth, a Democrat, accused Republicans of cloaking their true intentions and "attacking women's freedom."
"I don't need a single person in this room to tell me what to do with my body — I don't," Muth said. "This is a disgrace. And it is a ban on abortion."
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