With a Democratic governor whose term is about to expire, a Republican legislature, and several highly contentious races ahead, all eyes are on Pennsylvania. The state has become a litmus test for informing and shaping the political geography of the post-Trump era, especially as reproductive health care across the country faces a reckoning.
Abortion is currently legal in Pennsylvania for up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. Gov. Tom Wolf has shown his commitment to upholding reproductive rights, vetoing three laws limiting abortion with a Conservative lawmaker in the last five years. But now that Wolf is set to leave office and the US Supreme Court has struck Roe v. calfThe state governor’s race will play a significant role in determining the future of abortion in Pennsylvania.
Trump-backed Republican candidate Doug Mastriano has vowed to ban abortion – what he calls “genocidal science denial” – in any case, even in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the pregnant person’s life. Current Pennsylvania Attorney General and Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro has publicly pledged to preserve abortion and made it a focus of his campaign. With abortion rights at stake, Pennsylvania health care providers and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are devoting significant resources to shifting the battle lines.
One of those key people is Lindsey Mauldin, the vice president of public policy and advocacy at Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which is just three miles from the Penn campus. Mauldin says November’s vote goes beyond abortion rights, describing the upcoming election cycle as “one of the most important of our time” and declaring that “individual lives are at stake” when it comes to access to reproductive health care goes. Studies of maternal death rates in states that have banned abortion, for example, point to larger than previously expected increases in maternal deaths, particularly among minorities and low-income communities disproportionately impacted by the Dobbs ruling, which abolished the federal constitution Right to abortion and left-wing regulation in the hands of the states.
Mauldin also points to SB 106, known as the No Abortion Amendment, which was passed in July by anti-abortion lawmakers who gathered in the middle of the night and smuggled the amendment into independent law without public or medical involvement Experts. Although lawmakers supporting this bill claim it does not seek to deprive anyone of reproductive health care, in reality it creates a clear legislative pathway to introduce stricter bans on abortion.
This is “just the beginning of an attempt to propose an extreme agenda that really invades people’s privacy,” Mauldin says, pointing to other states that have begun restricting health care like contraception and gender-affirming therapies. Similarly, the enactment of SB 106 could have implications ranging from access to abortion to IVF treatments, treatment of ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage management. Decisions related to reproductive health are among the “most personal decisions one can make,” she says, emphasizing the stark contrast between this private health issue and the combative public political discourse that decides their fate. This situation is compounded by a related policy issue: the lack of affordable healthcare options.
AccessMatters, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit public health organization focused on access to sexual and reproductive health, is a local organization working to address the health care affordability crisis. Melissa Weiler Gerber, President and CEO of AccessMatters, points to the systemic barriers that can prevent someone from getting the resources they need. Philly is “the poorest big city in the country,” she says, “and all the things we worry about [reproductive health] Because of our very high poverty rate, which is highly correlated with race, access for clients here is generally made more difficult.” AccessMatters is currently in dialogue with Philly City Council members to secure increased funding and expanded access to abortion, specifically for those most at risk from the Dobbs decision. Additionally, they have developed a program in Philly schools that acts as a focal point for teens facing difficult decisions about their reproductive health and can connect them to the resources they need.
As a grantee of the Title X Family Planning Program, a federal grant that provides funding for family planning and various preventive services, AccessMatters exists to intervene before people fall victim to the system. They consider themselves an “important part of the region’s safety net” and reach out to around 100,000 people in the city and state every year. As abortion is under attack, the provision of contraceptive services is more important than ever. In fact, according to Dobbs, AccessMatters has seen an increase in calls from patients seeking tubal ligation and vasectomy, as these are the longest-lasting forms of birth control available. They work with a variety of local partners to whom they refer patients who call through a hotline. For at-risk teens who may lack the knowledge or resources to seek help, AccessMatters has currently established a program in local schools that acts as a resource for teens facing difficult decisions about their reproductive health.
Although their government funding prevents them from working directly with abortion providers, AccessMatters doesn’t see this as a barrier. They work closely with local organizations like the Abortion Liberation Fund and New Voices for Reproductive Justice, organizations focused on funding abortion and connecting patients to services on a case-by-case basis. The city recently committed $500,000 to the Abortion Liberation Fund, Weiler Gerber said, and organizations like AccessMatters are working to ensure that that money becomes a regular part of the city’s budget — not just an emergency measure.
Ultimately, the fight for reproductive justice is driven by the belief that abortion is preventive healthcare. But this medical service is so politicized that it takes a wide spectrum of activism to sustain it. Millions of dollars and hours of political organization were expended so providers could continue to offer a potentially life-saving medical procedure. The elimination of any elements of advocacy that communities have organized for years, whether through canvassing, mutual aid funds, or specialized clinical training, could be what is preventing an individual from receiving the necessary care they need. Action on the ground has provided the care and community needed to protect reproductive rights and fuel the fight for change.