Elections for top office could impact abortion access in these states
When the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June, it thrust abortion into the center of many midterm races.
Many Democrats have made the right to abortion a central issue in their campaigns, casting GOP-backed restrictions as out of step with the majority of Americans, who generally support some legal access to the procedure.
Most Republicans running for the House and Senate have kept a distance from proposals for a federal abortion ban while saying the issue should be left to voters at the state level.
Some states will do just that in November, with direct ballot initiatives that will determine the future of abortion access in the state.
But in a handful of races, the outcome in November could decide whether abortion remains legal in the state by shifting the balance of power in state governments.
Republicans currently hold majorities in the Pennsylvania state House and Senate and in recent years have attempted to introduce legislation that would further restrict abortion.
But Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has thwarted those efforts with his veto pen.
The outcome of the race to replace him could have dramatic repercussions on abortion access in the state.
Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro, the outgoing attorney general, has vowed to protect abortion if elected, while Doug Mastriano, his opponent backed by former President Trump, said following the Supreme Court decision that “Roe V. Wade is rightly relegated to the ash heap of history”.
He’s also previously said that people who have abortions should be charged with murder.
And as a state senator, Mastriano was one of the lead sponsors of a bill in 2019 that would have made abortion illegal in Pennsylvania once a fetal heartbeat was detected, which usually occurs around six weeks of pregnancy.
“We definitely think that if Doug Mastriano wins and if the Republicans maintain control of the state legislature that they will definitely move to pass an abortion ban,” said Ianthe Metzger, director of state advocacy communications at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Republicans are projected to maintain control of both chambers, while Shapiro holds a comfortable lead over Mastriano.
Katie Glenn, who is the state policy director for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said if Mastriano could pull off an upset, an abortion ban at 15 weeks is “definitely on the table.”
If Shapiro wins, she expects the status quo. “Shapiro has staked himself out as being very pro-abortion, so I think it would be more of the same,” she said.
Wisconsin was among the states with a pre-Roe abortion ban on the books, and following the June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned the abortion precedent, the ban dating back to 1849 was reinstated.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called a special legislative session in an attempt to repeal the ban, but Republican opposition in the state legislature resulted in the session ending with the law still in place.
Since then, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has refused to use resources from his department to prosecute abortion providers and has encouraged district attorneys in Wisconsin to follow suit.
Kaul is running for reelection against Republican Eric Toney, who has promised to enforce the pre-Roe ban if elected, and even advocated for district attorneys to be able to prosecute abortion cases across county lines.
So far, no one has been prosecuted under the law, as abortion providers in the state have ceased performing the procedure due to the lack of legal clarity.
The ban has narrow exceptions when the life of the mother is in danger, with violators facing up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Kaul has filed a lawsuit challenging the 1849 law that is expected to eventually work its way to the Supreme Court, which could decide whether it is enforceable.
“In order for abortion to return to Wisconsin … one of two things need to happen. One the courts need to declare that the law is unenforceable or two our state legislature needs to repeal the criminal abortion ban,” said Tanya Atkinson, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin.
If the Supreme Court were to overturn the law, the governor’s race would become crucial to the future of abortion in the state, with Republicans currently holding 57 of the 99 seats in the State Assembly and 21 of the 33 in the Senate.
Evers is up for reelection and in a tight race against Republican challenger Tim Michels, who largely supports the pre-Roe ban
“If Tony Evers loses, I think that the Republican governor with the Republican legislature would move to ban, to pass a new ban,” said Metzger. “So even if the 1849 ban is still in litigation, and we’re still waiting to see if that is enforceable or not, I think that if they have full power, they will pass a new ban and not even worry about the pre-Roe ban.”
Gov. Roy Cooper (D) is the only major obstacle blocking Republicans in North Carolina’s state legislature from restricting abortion in the state.
Since the overturning of Roe, Cooper has been adamant in his defense of abortion access, even signing an executive order protecting patients who traveled to North Carolina from states where abortion was banned from being prosecuted at home.
Republicans in the state legislature need to flip just five seats to gain a supermajority, which would make Cooper’s veto pen impotent. Three additional seats in the House and two in the Senate would give the GOP the necessary three-fifths majority.
Abortion in North Carolina was previously legal up until the point of fetal viability, which is around 24 weeks of pregnancy; however, a 20-week abortion law that had been halted came into effect after the Dobbs decision.
Metzger said that if Republicans achieve a veto-proof majority, she expects them to pass a ban.
“I think they would try to pass a ban and the governor would not be able to override it,” said Metzger. “I do think that that’s a real possibility.”
Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life Committee, was hopeful, though less certain of that outcome.
“If we’ve got the votes to protect unborn children, I hope they would do that,” said Tobias.
State Senate leader Phil Berger (R) has said he would support restricting abortion after the first trimester, while House Speaker Tim Moore (R) has said that he would favor a fetal heartbeat bill.
Metzger said that a ban in North Carolina could have reverberating effects on neighboring states where abortion is restricted, such as Tennessee, which has a total abortion ban.
The chances of the GOP picking up additional seats have also been bolstered by new district maps making previously solid Democratic seats more competitive for Republicans, according to The Charlotte Observer.