Pennsylvania Governor Promotes Abortion with Lawsuit and Executive Order

As the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania General Assembly advances a constitutional amendment to preserve its ability to restrict abortion, Governor Tom Wolf (D) is suing to defeat that amendment and taking executive action in favor of the practice. 

Keystone State governors typically don’t play a role in the constitutional amendment process. If both the State House of Representatives and the State Senate pass an amendment in two consecutive sessions, the commonwealth submits the measure as a ballot question for voters to accept or reject at the ballot box. If a majority agrees to it, the amendment becomes law, with or without gubernatorial blessing. 

But Wolf said upon filing the lawsuit that he does not believe the Pennsylvania Constitution itself permits a provision stating that “this Constitution does not grant the right to taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right relating to abortion.” 

This is despite the fact the document does not mention the termination of pregnancies anywhere in its pages. Republican legislators’ proposed amendment would not affect any rights explicitly granted by the state constitution. It could, however, prevent state courts from discerning an implicit right to abortion, as the federal judiciary did for nearly a half-century under its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned on June 24.

In announcing his lawsuit, Wolf mischaracterized the Republicans’ proposal as an “attempt to ban abortion in Pennsylvania,” something many lawmakers have said they would like to do but which the amendment itself would not accomplish. In his court filing, Wolf’s Office of General Counsel relies on the Pennsylvania Constitution’s protection of “privacy” to also protect the right to have an abortion.  

Pro-life advocates insisted that the governor has no sound basis for his argument.

“The Pennsylvania General Assembly has a right to seek to amend the Constitution, and to do so without the consent of the governor,” Maria Gallagher, legislative director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, said in a statement. “Prior to Roe v. Wade, the common law, statutory law and case law of Pennsylvania all prohibited abortion. Therefore, Gov. Wolf’s claims that this Amendment is ‘removing rights’ from the Constitution or ‘scaling back’ on a fundamental right of privacy that includes a right to abortion is false.” 

Currently, state law permits abortion throughout the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. The commonwealth’s 1989 Abortion Control Act states that a woman can only seek an abortion after that point if she faces a health risk. The law also requires that at least one parent of an unemancipated minor must give consent before that minor undergoes an abortion; it further instructs abortion providers to inform the woman about the gestation and development of her unborn baby as well as the physical risks the procedure poses. 

The abortion-related amendment passed this General Assembly session as part of a Senate bill containing several other amendments. (It needs passage in another session in order to go before the voters as a ballot question.) Those other items include a measure to require the state auditor general to regularly audit elections, a policy strengthening the General Assembly’s oversight over regulations, and a measure allowing each major party’s gubernatorial candidate to pick his or her running mate and doing away with lieutenant governor primaries. 

Wolf’s attempt to impede the Republicans’ constitution-amending effort comes weeks after he signed an executive order affirming the right of out-of-state residents to travel to Pennsylvania to have their pregnancies terminated. The order furthermore states that the governor will refuse to cooperate with other state agencies who want to arrest those who seek abortion in Pennsylvania. 

In a year in which Pennsylvania will hold federal and state elections, Wolf and his fellow Democrats are pressing their support for abortion in hope of spurring high voter turnout among progressives. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) have been emphasizing their pro-abortion bona fides in their respective campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate. Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a state senator from the Gettysburg area, and senatorial candidate Mehmet Oz, a celebrity surgeon, are both pro-life. 

“Companies don’t want to do business with states that are stripping away the rights of their workers,” Shapiro tweeted last weekend. “Businesses will leave Pennsylvania if we ban abortion. We can’t afford Doug Mastriano’s extremism.”

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Tom Wolf Abortion Executive Order” by Senator Judy Schwank.


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