Local leaders: Ruling will be issue in election

Protesters gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Friday. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court's landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

State Sen. Judy Ward’s mother gave birth to Ward at a difficult time in the mother’s marriage, and if abortion had been legal and her mother hadn’t been a staunch Catholic, she might have terminated that pregnancy, Ward said Friday.

The potential threat Ward, R-Blair, escaped as an unborn baby motivates her now to work for the pro-life cause — a cause she has power to promote, as a state lawmaker, she said.

That power got a boost on Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, freeing states to prohibit abortions prior to fetal viability.

“That’s what drives me,” Ward said. “To advocate for unborn babies.”

The ruling made Ward’s Democratic opponent in the general election in November “livid.”

“This decision seeks to allow judicial and governmental intrusion into our most private, personal and important decisions,” wrote Carol Taylor in an emailed statement. “It returns us to a time where terminating a pregnancy was a matter of underground connections, money, privilege and possibly death.”

It shows that the court didn’t learn the lessons of the past, Taylor added.

Decisive issue

“I think (the decision) will be a decisive issue for a lot of voters” this fall, said state Rep. Lou Schmitt, R-Altoona and a pro-life lawyer who thinks the Roe court nearly 50 years ago that claimed a constitutional right to abortion just “made it up.”

Current law in Pennsylvania allows for abortions up to 24 weeks, and despite the pro-life Republican Party having control of the General Assembly, Gov. Tom Wolf has promised to veto any bill that calls for further abortion restrictions.

But Wolf’s second term will end at the beginning of next year, and while Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro is also pro-choice, his Republican opponent Doug Mastriano advocates for severe restrictions on the ending of fetal life.

If Mastriano wins, and the Republicans maintain a majority in the House and Senate, Mastriano will likely have the opportunity to sign a bill that further restricts abortion — though it’s conceivable he’d refuse to sign one that isn’t restrictive enough, Schmitt said.

If Shapiro wins, but Republicans retain control of the General Assembly, the strategy could be for lawmakers to introduce a constitutional amendment that would need to pass in identical form in two consecutive two-year legislative sessions and which would then go before the voters as a referendum, according to Schmitt.

The governor would not be involved, Schmitt said. It’s unclear how such a vote would go, as “polls are all over the place” on abortion, he said.

The ruling will provide motivation for the Democrats in the gubernatorial campaign, according to Gillian Kratzer, chairwoman of the Blair County Democratic Committee.

“It makes it very clear that if I don’t want (those) to be the future of Pennsylvania, I have a lot of work to do,” Kratzer said.

Other effects

Friday’s decision is worrisome beyond the issue of abortion, according to Kratzer, who cited a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas that suggested the court look again at cases involving contraception, sexual conduct with a member of the same sex and same-sex marriage.

Justice Samuel Alito, in his majority opinion, explicitly renounced the idea that the ruling that overturns Roe threatens other rights.

“To ensure that our decision is not misunderstood or mischaracterized, we emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other,” Alito wrote.” Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

“I don’t trust Samuel Alito,” Kratzer said.

The liberalization that led to legal acceptance of contraception, sex with a member of the same gender and same-sex marriage evolved along with the acceptance of abortion, according to Kratzer, so a threat to one is credibly a threat to the others, she said.

“It hasn’t been that long that people said all the time that Roe won’t be overturned, and not to worry,” she said. “Now here we are.”

‘Thrilled’ by ruling

Altoona attorney Tom Forr became an advocate for the pro-life cause in the late 1960s, when he was in the Army, and states like Colorado, California and New York began to loosen restrictions on abortion.

He sent money to support the pro-life movement, then began leading local delegations to to the annual Washington, D.C., March for Life a decade later on the urging of local pro-life activist Ann Zelnosky. It has taken “a lot of prayer” over many years to achieve Friday’s reversal, one that has made him “thrilled,” Forr said.

“(Now) the battle will shift to the states,” he said. That means, as Kratzer said on the opposite side, “we have a lot of work,” Forr said. “I hope it plays out favorably to babies,” he added.

Already in Washington

Kristie Jo King of St. Benedict was in Washington this week at a conference of the National Association of Social Workers, so when the decision overturning Roe was announced, a group of attendees went to the Supreme Court building to protest.

“We’re proud to be here (to show) we’re on the correct side of history,” King said, explaining that her profession tends to be non-judgmental, to “meet people where they’re at” and to support whatever people choose for themselves.

The crowd in front of the court building was swelling during the afternoon, and there were predictions it would reach a million strong before evening, she said. A couple of decision supporters came by and gloated — attempting to provoke the protesters — but the protesters remained peaceful, King said. The protesters were upholding a “fundamental human right” to “bodily autonomy,” along with privacy, King said.

Overturning Roe is likely to lead to changes that will aggravate mental health issues for many, including those who’ve had abortions and kept them secret, King said.

She was protesting for those people and on behalf of her 9-year-old daughter, whose well-being could potentially be threatened if, for example, she were raped, got pregnant and had to carry the resulting fetus to full term, King said.

“How horrific is that?” she asked rhetorically.

If one believes that life begins at conception, the moral and philosophical imperatives are clear, and they trump privacy and bodily autonomy, according to Schmitt.

That justifies state control, he said.

“The state has a legitimate interest in protecting life,” he said. “It might be the state’s most important function.”

The state already exercises control in cases of pregnancy after 24 weeks, he said.

“Just because a person is carrying a child doesn’t mean the state has to be hands off,” he said.

Pastor Gary Dull of Faith Baptist Church in Altoona agrees.

“The body of the innocent baby in the womb of any woman does not belong to the woman,” he wrote in an emailed news release. “That body belongs to God.”

Legislative options on table

While the Supreme Court’s decision threw the issue of abortion to the states, it doesn’t preclude Congress and the president from combining to legislate the matter at the federal level, Schmitt said.

It also doesn’t preclude a push to amend the U.S. Constitution to deal with the issue, pro or con, he said.

A federal approach is actually more likely to come from the pro-choice side, he predicted.

Dull is thankful for the decision, which may be “a forward step in bringing America back to God,” he wrote. What has gone before “is a national sin and shame for which we all must repent,” he stated.

On the contrary, the ruling will create hardships for women around the nation who will need to travel long distances to where abortion continues to be legally and safely available, said retired Blair County Commissioner Donna Gority, who called herself “disturbed.”

If Mastriano wins, Pennsylvania women may need to go to border states, depending on the laws in those — or to illegal in-state clinics that could “be popping up and that could be extremely dangerous,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.39/week.

Subscribe Today