The recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade and revoke the federal constitutional right to abortion jeopardizes the health and safety of millions of people who need access to safe abortion care. This decision will be felt most acutely in communities of color and poor communities who already face deep inequities in healthcare access. As the dissenting opinion from the liberal Supreme Court justices points out, Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization doesn’t just eliminate the right to abortion, it threatens other legal precedents that establish rights to privacy, sexual intimacy, and bodily autonomy—opening the door to the erosion of gender justice and human rights.
“Dobbs empowers ideologues to move beyond the abortion context and restrict a broad array of rights,” says Reggie Shuford, Executive Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We have folks in the courts and elected officials who are committed to revisiting what we believed were long-resolved rights, guaranteed to every American. That includes the right to marry, the right to contraception, the right to gender expression, the right to vote, and the right to learn what you want in school. There is a lot at stake.”
“We are seeing a very concerted effort to destroy people’s ability to make decisions about their health, their bodies, and their lives,” says Farrah Parkes, Executive Director of the Gender Justice Fund. “It’s not an accident that the two states with the most restrictive anti-abortion laws, Florida and Texas, are also states with some of the most restrictive anti-trans laws. Florida just started denying Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming treatments for trans adults.”
“We’ve been living in a post-Roe world in Pennsylvania since 1985, when the state implemented a racially and economically unjust law which prohibited Medicaid funding from covering abortions,” says Elicia Gonzales, Executive Director of the Abortion Liberation Fund of PA. “Dobbs is going to make abortion access even more difficult for Black, Brown, and Indigenous folks who are already burdened by poverty as a result of racialized capitalism.”
While abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania, state legislators are pushing through an amendment to the state constitution that says: “there is no right to taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right relating to abortion.” If the amendment passes, state courts would be powerless to recognize abortion as a right guaranteed by the state constitution. An amendment requires two consecutive votes and a ballot initiative. Legislators passed the amendment in July 2022 and will vote again in early 2023. Pennsylvania voters could decide on the amendment as early as May 2023.
Movements are fighting back. The Women’s Law Project of PA filed a lawsuit on behalf of Pennsylvania abortion providers challenging the state ban on Medicaid funding for abortions. The litigation, which will be heard this fall, also asks the state Supreme Court to affirm that Pennsylvanians have a fundamental right to abortion under the state constitution.
“The majority of Americans believe in abortion. Politicians should be listening to their constituencies,” Shuford says. “People need to vote in every election. You have to be in the fight. You cannot win unless you are fighting.”