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Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro speaking a reproductive rights rally in center city on Oct. 22, 2022. Credit: Ana Glassman

In the months leading up to November's midterm elections, voters across Pennsylvania have voiced concerns regarding how the outcome of the the state's gubernatorial election will impact their access to reproductive health care.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, abortion has been a hot-button issue for many candidates during this election cycle. As Gov. Tom Wolf (D-Pa.) reaches his two-term limit as governor, the candidate who will be elected in the gubernatorial election on Nov. 8 — and thus wield the governor’s veto pen — will dictate if access to abortion is protected or prohibited in Pennsylvania.  

While Democrat Attorney General Josh Shapiro pledges to continue protecting Pennsylvanians’ access to abortion, Republican State Sen. Doug Mastriano has repeatedly voiced that he is an ardent supporter of anti-abortion legislation and has vowed to sign the proposed “Heartbeat Bill” into Pennsylvania law, if elected. Ahead of Election Day, The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke to Penn Wellness administrators and students about their concerns with what's at stake regarding abortion access in this election.

College sophomore Annabelle Jin, co-founder of the Penn Reproductive Justice Working Group student organization, said that the winner of the gubernatorial race will have a huge say in future legislation regarding abortion access for Pennsylvanians.

“Especially with the governor’s race, Doug Mastriano has said that he will ban abortion in all cases, including extreme ones like incest, rape, and in the case of [protecting] the mother’s life, whereas Josh Shapiro has promised he will veto any anti-choice legislation that the state legislature may pass,” Jin said.

Jin helped organize a pro-abortion rights rally on Oct. 22 at City Hall that featured Shapiro as the key speaker. 

She said that it is important to recognize that ensuring reproductive rights does not only impact women. Beyond working to support abortion access, Penn Reproductive Justice Working Group's mission also includes sexual education, menstrual health advocacy, and voter registration efforts ahead of the midterm elections. 

“You can argue about the philosophy of the life of the fetus, but I think that you have to respect a person’s freedom to make a decision for themselves about what they want to do with their bodies," Jin said. "If you start infringing on that freedom, there’s no real limit.”

College sophomore Chloe Hunt, a DP sports reporter, said that although she is a registered Republican, she will be voting for Shapiro in the gubernatorial race.

"I am pro-life, but I also think that restricting abortion entirely and making contraception and abortion difficult to access is harmful for everybody, regardless of which political party one identifies with," Hunt said.

On June 24, the Supreme Court reversed the nationwide constitutional right to an abortion upheld by the 1973 case Roe v. Wade. The Court’s 6–3 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization granted the power for abortion care to be decided by the states, not the federal government.

Wellness at Penn and the Center for Public Health Initiatives issued a joint statement following the Court judgment in June, which stated that the centers acknowledge the policy implications and fear and anxiety generated as a result.

Should Mastriano win the gubernatorial race and anti-abortion laws is passed by the state legislature, Penn would become the only Ivy League institution whose students do not have safe and legal access to an abortion because of their state’s politics.

The administrators wrote that restricting access to safe abortions will inevitably lead to heightened maternal mortality rates, childhood poverty, and poor mental health outcomes, in addition to magnifying racial inequities.

“Providing inclusive public health services for all in our community means providing access to safe and legal reproductive care, including abortions,” Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé and CPHI Executive Director Richard Wender wrote. “In light of this decision, the Penn public health community will continue to educate and promote access to comprehensive and safe reproductive care.”

In a press release after the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion, Wolf wrote that the decision “did not happen overnight," adding that this election cycle would be "critical" for Pennsylvania. 

Executive Director of Student Health and Counseling William Adelman told the DP that “health care access is on the ballot. There’s no question about it.”

“You have a voice — make it count,” Dubé told The Daily Pennsylvanian. “It’s not just about you. It’s about the people you love and how laws impact them. That’s what this is about.”

Courtney Schreiber, director of Penn Medicine’s Pregnancy Early Access Center, wrote in a tweet that individuals should “make no mistake” when it comes to interpreting the impact of anti-abortion legislation.

“These laws have a chilling effect on the ability to practice safe obstetrics,” Schreiber wrote.

Current Pennsylvania law states that abortion is legal through 23 weeks of pregnancy and remains legal if the mother’s life or health is in danger, according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General's website.

On July 7, Republican state legislators in Harrisburg advanced a proposal for a potential amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution to say that it “does not guarantee any rights relating to an abortion or public finding of abortions.”

The July proposal was not the first time Republican state legislators tried to restrict abortion access. Wolf has used his veto power to block statewide abortion restrictions three times before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, The Washington Post reported.

On Election Day, Hunt said that she will be splitting her ticket, voting Republican for the United States senate seat but Democrat for governor.

"Mastriano has kind of made abortion his one issue — his main issue — when I think there's a lot of more pertinent issues facing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," Hunt said.

Instead of emphasizing policy ideas impacting college students, she said, the Republican candidate is honing in on restricting abortion access.

Hunt said that she believes Shapiro is a "better example" for what Pennsylvania needs. She said Shapiro is someone who will "respect the life of the fetus" while also ensuring that women have access to reproductive health care.

"I hope that Republicans at Penn will consider [that] Mastriano's hard stance is something that is not a good look for the party and does not fit the image a lot of Pennsylvanian's have regarding this issue," Hunt said.