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On May 19, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) signed a law that bans abortions after six weeks, before most people even know they are pregnant. The law is extreme, allowing private citizens to enforce it.
Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the three liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor wrote a scathing dissent. Three of the five conservative votes in support of the Texas law were put on the court by Donald Trump: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
The majority opinion — a single, long paragraph — was unsigned. It said the abortion providers who had challenged the law in an emergency application to the court had not proved their case “in the face of complex and novel procedural questions.” The majority insisted that it was not ruling on the constitutionality of the Texas law and did not intend to limit “procedurally proper challenges” to that law.
That disclaimer notwithstanding, the law is now being enforced, and any person who wants an abortion in Texas is impacted.
The Texas law won’t stop at Texas. As numerous abortion rights advocates explained, other states that have been pushing more restrictive anti-abortion legislation — Pennsylvania among them — will view the Texas law as a template for their own efforts.
Moreover, with the 2022 midterms, abortion — always a leading culture war issue — could radically impact voters. In 2016, many white women voters who chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, 53 percent to 47 percent, cited abortion as their key issue in making that decision. Clinton was too liberal on abortion, they told pollsters.
With an open governor’s seat (Democratic incumbent Tom Wolf is term-limited) and an open Senate seat (GOP Sen. Pat Toomey is not running for re-election) Pennsylvania will be a focal point nationally. The abortion question is bound to be central.
But Pennsylvanians are already at risk. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2019, 85% of Pennsylvania counties had no clinics that provided abortions, and 48% of Pennsylvania women lived in those counties. (There are no available statistics on how many non-binary people live in those same counties, but trans and non-binary people already have significant problems with access to healthcare in the state.)
Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest. An abortion may be performed at 24 or more weeks after the last menstrual period only in cases of life or health endangerment. The state requires abortion clinics to meet unnecessary and burdensome standards related to their physical plant, equipment and staffing.
Abortion rights activists in Pennsylvania are using the Texas law as a voting mandate, asserting that the courts cannot protect reproductive rights because they are stacked with GOP judges.
The risks in Pennsylvania are manifold. While President Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland have stated their strong opposition to the Texas law, and vowed to find ways to countermand it, the threat is now for Texans and imminent in many other states — including Pennsylvania.
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