Election 2020

Battle Lines Drawn Over Abortion in Pennsylvania, Other Key Races

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf in his Capitol offices on Feb. 24, 2016, in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf “must be competing for the title of the most pro-abortion governor in the U.S.,” Maria Gallagher, the legislative and political action committee director for the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, speculated in a recent op-ed for LifeNews.

“While he talks about women having control over their own ‘health care,’” Gallagher wrote, “Wolf remains one of the Keystone State’s leading apologists for Big Abortion.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner, on the other hand, goes into the fall general election with the endorsement of the PPLF after scoring 100 percent on the political action committee’s voting scorecard while he was a member of the state’s legislature.

“The contrast between the candidates for governor is vast and crystal-clear,” Gallagher opined. “The lives of thousands of pre-born children—and the well-being of their mothers—are at stake in this pivotal election year.”

Wolf and Wagner have been at loggerheads over a bill vetoed by the governor that would have shortened the state’s limit on legal abortions from 24 weeks to 20 weeks. That would have ended dilation and evacuation, which AP reported is the most common method of terminating a pregnancy in the second trimester.

Wagner voted in favor of the 20-week bill and also supported a “heartbeat bill” that would have blocked abortions once a fetus’ heart was heard beating. The legislation would have also stopped abortions just because the baby would be born with Down syndrome.

Wolf promised to veto the “heartbeat bill” if it made it to his desk. And he also has opposed the Down syndrome bill.

Pro-life lawmakers, like Rep. Rick Saccone (R), told AP a Wagner victory would give them new hope for anti-abortion legislation.

“The heartbeat bill is a bright line for life,” Saccone said. “I think it’s easier to win support from people for this bill rather than to say ‘under no circumstances an abortion.’ I think you’d lose that.”

Republicans control the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Most of them are pro-life. So, pro-choice advocates see Wolf, and his re-election, as their last chance to guarantee women can have abortions in the state.

“This is a guy who was a volunteer escort for Planned Parenthood when he was just a regular dude,” Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates Executive Director Sari Stevens said to Billy Penn. “His support is so authentic.”

Planned Parenthood has paid back Wolf’s support by donating $26,500 to his re-election campaign. Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania plans to put its members out front, knocking on doors, texting, and phone banking, until Election Day, along with orchestrating digital advertising. Stevens said the total commitment to the Wolf campaign could hit $2 million.

“He is our No. 1 investment,” Stevens said.

Mobilizing people to go beyond merely casting a vote in November is never easy. But Kristin Kanthak, an associate professor in political science at the University of Pittsburgh, said the knowledge that Donald Trump’s in the Oval Office will motivate pro-choice voters into believing Wolf is “a last line of defense for Pennsylvania” abortion rights.

“That’s going to be an easier message to get across in 2018 than in 2016,” Kanthak said.

Pennsylvania isn’t the only state where the right to an abortion is suddenly a hot-button 2018 campaign topic. And it isn’t just Trump in the White House that’s scaring pro-choice supporters.

Politico reported Democrats running for governor in several states are using the abortion issue to mobilize their supporters because of the fear that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, if confirmed, will tip the scales of justice against Roe v. Wade.

Former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius told Politico the White House may have handed Democrats an issue with the nomination of Kavanaugh that will unleash a Blue Wave that’s more like a tsunami.

“Democrats have never been able to mobilize the kind of voter excitement around a Supreme Court nomination that Republicans have,” said Sebelius. “This may be a different time.”

Jared Polis, the Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee in Colorado, ran a digital ad campaign warning that abortion rights could be lost because of the Kavanaugh nomination.

“If federal protections are removed, the very presence and legality of reproductive health will become a state issue,” Polis said. “So it really shines [a light on] the importance of governorships and state legislatures for making sure that women have access to a full set of reproductive health options.”

Democrat Kelda Roys is a former Wisconsin legislator running for governor. The Democrat promised to pardon anyone charged with violating the state’s ban on abortion if federal protections are lifted.

And in New Hampshire, former state Sen. Molly Kelly (D), who is running for governor, has vowed to push the legislature to pass new laws to protect a woman’s right to get an abortion.

“I would immediately say,” Kelly said, “‘it shall be the public policy of New Hampshire that our state shall not’ — and I’m going to be clear when I say that — ‘shall not restrict a woman exercising a private decision to terminate a pregnancy.’”

However, Phil Cox, a former executive director of the Republican Governors Association, said no one should be surprised by the sound and fury of Democrats on the abortion issue.

“Democrats employ scare tactics on abortion to motivate their base,” Cox said. “It happens every year in every election.”