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Pennsylvania Becomes Battlefield in Wake of Abortion Decision

Advocates on both sides of the debate are increasing their efforts, with many predicting the fight will move to the Legislature. Those against abortion want to ensure it’s banned while those in support want to codify it as law.

(TNS) — The day after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision ending the constitutional right to an abortion, both abortion-rights and antiabortion activists agreed Saturday, June 25, that the ruling wasn't the conclusion of a decades-long cultural war, but another milestone in an ongoing epochal struggle.

Abortion-rights supporters saw hope in Congress or state policies, and gathered Saturday in front of the National Constitution Center and, later at City Hall, to affirm there were ways to fight back.

"The way to solve this problem is to no longer rely on the courts," said Kitty Kolbert, who cofounded the Center for Reproductive Rights and argued a Pennsylvania abortion case for Planned Parenthood before the Supreme Court in 1992, at a rally held in front of the Constitution Center on Saturday afternoon.

Opponents of legal abortions saw an incomplete victory. While the decision is expected to lead to abortion bans in about half of the nation's states, the other half, including Pennsylvania, are poised to continue protecting them.

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"it emphasizes the need to elect a pro-life governor," said Michael McMonagle, president of the Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania, as he stood outside the Philadelphia Women's Center, a Center City abortion clinic, in protest.

The 6-3 Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health decision overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, ending a constitutional right to an abortion and allowing each state to decide whether to make the procedure legal.

For opponents of abortion, at issue is the life of the unborn.

Abortion-rights activists say what's at stake is much more than the potentially difficult decision about whether to go through with a pregnancy. It's a matter of women's autonomy and self-determination, said speakers at the Constitution Center gathering.

"Not only will women all over the country be turned into criminals for controlling their own bodies, and doctors for treating patients," said U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D., Pa.), "but the progress we have seen over the last few generations, in the boardroom, in the courtroom, in the medical profession, in academia, and even in the halls of Congress ... have just suffered a massive, massive setback."

Meanwhile, a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas stated the high court should look at overturning other rulings that protect same-sex marriage, gay sex, and contraception.

"He made his future agenda perfectly clear, to take away freedom from gay marriage, from gay intimacy, and from contraception," Houlahan said.

For their parts, antiabortion activists hope to increase the number of states where abortion is illegal. Activists want to pursue civil cases to eliminate access to abortion pills, and if a Republican doesn't become Pennsylvania's governor, they want a veto-proof Republican majority in the legislature that could push through an abortion ban.

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Abortion rights have suddenly become a pivotal issue in Pennsylvania's November election, when the state will pick a new governor and U.S. senator. For people who value the right to an abortion, electing Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democrat gubernatorial nominee, has gained added urgency. Antiabortion advocates see hope in his Republican opponent, State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has said banning all abortions, including those that would end pregnancies from incest or rape, is a top priority.

Abortion-rights advocates also view Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's election to the U.S. Senate as important because he could play a role in ending a Senate filibuster, a step that advocates hope could lead to legislation codifying abortion rights.

Pennsylvania now allows abortions up to the 24th week of a pregnancy. Anyone under 18 needs a parent's permission and everyone needs a doctor's consultation and a 24-hour waiting period. New Jersey allows the procedure with no gestational age restrictions, and Delaware allows it up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy.

The gathering at the Constitution Center on Saturday was as much a campaign event as an abortion-rights rally, with members of Congress, state representatives, and activists using the Supreme Court decision to urge voters to support Shapiro and Fetterman.

"What happened yesterday was the beginning of policing women and pregnant people's bodies," said Nina Ahmad, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization for Women. "In Pennsylvania, where abortion is still legal, the only way to keep it is with a veto pen which will belong to Josh Shapiro."

Shapiro, in shirt cuffs and jeans, affirmed his election would be key to keeping abortion legal in Pennsylvania. Protections for abortion rights no longer came from Washington, he said.

"I believe that abortion is health care and I will defend it," he said. "I trust the women of Pennsylvania to make decisions over your own body."

As the candidate spoke, clouds drifted across a sweltering sun, offering slight relief for the roughly 1,500 people who attended.

They carried signs that said, "Abort the court," "Forced pregnancy is torture," and "How dare you take away my rights." Despite the frequent applause and cheers at the event, some described feeling grief over the court decision. One woman who asked not to be identified came dressed as a character from the Handmaid's Tale, a science-fiction novel and television show about a possible America where women have been made virtual slaves. She had been raped multiple times, she said, and if she had been forced to carry the resulting pregnancy to term would not have known who the father was.

" Pennsylvania is only as safe as our state government," she said.

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Another woman said the leak of a draft decision in early May didn't prepare her for the reality of the ruling.

"Even though it wasn't really a surprise, it was still unsettling, scary," said Cara Stapleton, a 24-year-old Philadelphian who works in marketing. "I think it's important right now for a lot of people to ban together."

A few hours before the rally began, just a few blocks away, staff at the Philadelphia Women's Center escorted women, overwhelmingly young, some accompanied by family and others by young people their own age, into the clinic.

"We're health-care workers," said Amanda Kifferly, vice president of abortion access. "Our first responsibility is that everyone have a safe experience."

Lining the sidewalk were McMonagle and about half a dozen men, most of them seniors, one woman, and a young man wearing a Catholic priest's collar and cassock, who quietly prayed.

"It may not be too late," they said to the women entering or leaving the clinic.

One man held up a small doll of a fetus as three young women talked to an escort. The one woman among the protesters, Laura Gies, described the clinic's staff as "the side that works for darkness." Her efforts occasionally have led a woman to decide against getting an abortion.

"I've had women change their mind, and it makes you want to help again," Geis said.

The protesters said they came out of love.

"God called me to this work," McMonagle, 69, said.

Kifferly has received death threats from abortion opponents, she said. On the small street that's home to the clinic, a police cruiser was conspicuous. One had been assigned there overnight, Kifferly said.

"I've just been so focused on our security and making sure the patients are safe and happy," she said.

Kifferly has 1973, the year of the Roe v. Wade decision, tattooed on her upper right arm and said she entered the field because her mother had two illegal abortions. The court decision Friday has just reaffirmed her commitment to ensuring women can get abortions, she said.

"I feel more righteous than ever," Kifferly said. "It's my pleasure to be here because the patients need the best."

(c)2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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