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Election sets field for Pa. abortion war

With Democrats’ last-ditch effort to codify abortion rights into federal law falling short, the question in states like Pennsylvania remains: What will happen in a post-Roe v. Wade world?

The answer, for now at least, lies in the governor’s office.

After a draft Supreme Court ruling overturning the landmark case was leaked this month, Gov. Tom Wolf was quick to declare he will never allow state-level abortion bans as long as he remains governor.

“I will continue to veto any legislation that threatens access to abortion and women’s health care,” he said early this month.

But Wolf only has a few more months in office, and GOP control in Harrisburg would almost certainly lead to new restrictions on the procedure.

Initially, some abortion rights advocates hoped Democratic control in Washington could lead to a long-hoped-for law guaranteeing the right to the procedure. But a 51-49 vote Wednesday killed those hopes, with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., joining Republican colleagues.

Even declarations from historically anti-abortion Democrats like Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., weren’t enough.

If the leaked Supreme Court ruling becomes final, it will be left to states to set abortion rights — and many GOP-governed states are already pushing the legal limits of regulation.

Pennsylvania could join them if a Republican candidate replaces Wolf after November, and if the GOP keeps its hold over both chambers of the General Assembly. Conservative lawmakers and gubernatorial hopefuls already have a long record of pushing for strict abortion laws, despite Wolf’s veto threats.

Last year, Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, proposed a so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill that would effectively ban abortions before pregnancy is usually detected. Mastriano is considered a frontrunner in the GOP governor primary vote this Tuesday.

At least five Republican gubernatorial hopefuls have said they support total bans, according to Spotlight PA.

“Once the repeal of Roe v. Wade is official, I am calling on the General Assembly to hold a vote on the heartbeat bill,” Mastriano said when the Supreme Court ruling was made public.

A companion bill by Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton, made it through a House committee last year but didn’t get a vote on the floor.

Other legislators have pushed for abortion bans under specific conditions, or to stop the right ever being codified in law.

State Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, proposed a constitutional amendment in January — one of several recent GOP moves to change the state’s highest document — that would ban any law guaranteeing abortion rights.

That amendment would present the opportunity to avoid a governor’s veto, even if Democratic candidate and Attorney General Josh Shapiro wins the vote to replace Wolf. An amendment would require a vote by the public to pass — no guarantee in a state where abortion rights tend to poll well.

Mail votes in despite challenge

The deadline to get mail-in ballots for the Tuesday primary has passed, but efforts to stop the practice in future elections are far from over.

A collection of conservative activists rallied in the Capitol on Wednesday to demand lawmakers end no-excuse mail voting. GOP legislators are fighting to stop the practice, which let millions vote remotely in 2020 after the General Assembly passed the practice into law.

Mail-in voting remains under legal threat in Pennsylvania: The Commonwealth Court struck down the law allowing it in January, but mail-in voting remains legal as advocates await a state Supreme Court hearing.

Senator would raise Guard pay

A state lawmaker is pushing for pay raises for National Guard troops, as soldiers in other states organize for better pay and conditions.

This week Sen. Katie Muth, D-Montgomery, circulated a memo for a bill that would raise minimum National Guard pay by 80 percent — from $100 per day to $180 when on state duty like emergency relief.

“Based on a typical 12-hour shift, our National Guard personnel are making $8.33 per hour at the current $100 per day rate,” Muth told colleagues, noting that her bill would push that rate past $15 per hour.

Pennsylvania Guard troops last got a state-duty pay raise in 2016. Since then, inflation and cost-of-living increases have taken a bite out of the current $100-per-day floor.

In some states, National Guard troops are already moving to organize unions, urged on by the wave of unionization that has hit Starbucks, Amazon and other national businesses. A group of Texas Guard troops publicly launched a union drive in February, around the same time the U.S. Department of Justice argued that Connecticut troops had the legal right to do so.

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Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at rbrown@altoonamirror.com.

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