Thousands attend Pa. March for Life in first event since Roe’s reversal

Some Republican lawmakers, with support from a handful of Democrats, have already proposed limiting the procedure and restricting funds to health care centers that perform abortions, despite Pennsylvanians supporting keeping abortion legal under all or some circumstances

By: and - September 19, 2022 2:01 pm

An estimated 5,000 people attended the Pennsylvania March for Life to advocate for restricting abortion on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022 (Capital-Star photo).

Jean Dudash and Anita Smith were up at 4 a.m. to make the 4-hour drive from Lawrence County to Harrisburg on Monday.

Attending the Pennsylvania March for Life — the first since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — the women said they were overwhelmed by the estimated 5,000 anti-abortion advocates at the event, sprawling onto the complex lawn and into North 3rd Steet.

“It’s wonderful,” Smith told the Capital-Star.

Buses of people — families, school kids, and faith leaders — traveled to the state capital for the second annual March for Life, which advocates for an end to abortion, joining Republican lawmakers who have proposed anti-abortion legislation in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

When House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, took the stage at last year’s march, he described feeling more energy, passion, and drive from “pro-life supporters” after the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns. He said the health crisis gave “a generation of Americans a new perspective on what the right to life is truly all about.”

“What a difference a year makes,” Cutler said Monday. “Am I right? Thanks to your advocacy and your prayers, we continue to be successful.”

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, a former Planned Parenthood volunteer, has vowed to veto any legislation restricting abortion access in Pennsylvania. Since taking office in 2015, he has blocked three bills — including proposals that would make abortion illegal at 20 weeks of pregnancy, ban abortion after a Down syndrome diagnosis, and outlaw abortions obtained through telemedicine — sent to his desk. 

Attendees at the march joined in prayer for Wolf, whose term ends in January 2023, asking him to change his mind on abortion policy.

“Our work is not done,” Cutler said, thanking GOP lawmakers and anti-abortion advocates who attended the march. “This is not a time to let up.”

Pennsylvania’s governor’s and legislative races could drastically change how, when, and why someone could receive an abortion — if at all — in the state. Some Republican lawmakers, with support from a handful of Democrats, have already proposed limiting the procedure and restricting funds to health care centers that perform abortions, despite Pennsylvanians supporting keeping abortion legal under all or some circumstances.

The most recent legislative effort to restrict abortion includes a proposed constitutional change that — if approved by voters — would amend the state Constitution to declare there is “no constitutional right to taxpayer-funded abortion or other right relating to abortion.” The measure was included as part of a five-pronged amendment package, Senate Bill 106, which passed the General Assembly in July.

The amendment package, currently the subject of an ongoing lawsuit filed by Wolf, could reach voters as early as May 2023 if it passes again in the next legislative session. A governor cannot veto a constitutional amendment.

Language for the abortion-related amendment came from a bill introduced by Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, a former nurse, last year, who — along with others who supported the proposal — said existing law will not change immediately. They’ve also argued that a ballot question gives voters the ultimate say on abortion access in Pennsylvania.

Reproductive rights advocates and medical providers have said the proposed amendment would impose an abortion ban across the commonwealth, arguing that medical decisions should be between a patient and their doctor — not the general public.

As anti-abortion advocates gathered outside, Democratic state lawmakers held a news conference in the Capitol where they presented a four-part legislative package designed “to make abortion care more accessible and safer” for Pennsylvanians.

State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia, said the package presents “a more positive vision of the future” and called the March for Life rally “a desperate attempt to tear away our rights and the rights of our constituents.”

Lawmakers said the bill package would protect patients and providers from prosecution, increase the number of health care professionals who can perform abortions to include midwives and nurse practitioners, and remove pre-abortion blood testing requirements. 

State Rep. Emily Kinkead, D-Allegheny, whose bill would increase the number of medical professionals who can perform abortions to allow midwives and nurse practitioners, said Allegheny County has been hit hard by the influx of out-of-state patients seeking abortion care.

“I have seen firsthand what our clinics are experiencing when it comes to interacting with patients who no longer have access to abortion in their home state,” Kinkead said, adding that patients seeking care in Pennsylvania come from as far away as Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana, as well as neighboring states Ohio and West Virginia. 

Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, said it was “quite shocking to pull up to the Capitol today.” 

Otten shared an experience talking to her 7-year-old daughter about the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and what the decision would mean for her daughter’s bodily autonomy.

“I didn’t have the heart to tell her that today she might be a little less free,” Friel Otten said. “This fight for me is about my daughter and all of our children.” 

“Today is a first step,” Fiedler said, adding that House Democrats “don’t have the votes” to pass the bills that would protect, extend, and expand access to abortion care in Pennsylvania. 

Fielder called on Pennsylvanians to “speak up and make your voice heard” at the ballot box. 

“We are standing up for you,” Fielder said.

An abortion access rally is slated for Tuesday morning at the Pennsylvania Capitol.

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Marley Parish

Marley Parish covered the Senate for the Capital-Star.

Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller was the associate editor at the Capital-Star.