On June 24, the United States Supreme Court released their ruling on the highly anticipated Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. The case involved a contested Mississippi law which banned abortions after 15 weeks of gestation. The ruling came almost two months after a majority decision draft was leaked to the press indicating that the landmark 1973 case, Roe v. Wade, would be overturned. As most expected, the leaked draft proved accurate, with the Court voting 6-3 to uphold Mississippi’s ban and 5-4 to overturn Roe.
Currently, 13 states have “trigger bans” in place, meaning that the Court’s ruling has an immediate effect causing highly restrictive or total bans on abortion. Other state governments have almost unanimously confirmed that they will keep abortion legal. However, Pennsylvania remains one of the many states with branches that are split; gridlocked on whether or not the Commonwealth should keep reproductive services legal.
Representative Mike Schlossberg ‘05 is a Democrat serving in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives for the state’s 132nd district, encompassing the city of Allentown and parts of South Whitehall township. When speaking with The Weekly, Schlossberg identified some of the changes regarding reproductive health care that the state may face. “The good news is that abortion remains legal in Pennsylvania. That hasn’t changed. The bad news is that abortion is under threat in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania legislature has previously passed exceptionally restrictive abortion laws, including 6-week abortion bans. Thankfully, Governor Wolf has vetoed those bills into the sun, where they belong. However, if we lose him, women lose bodily autonomy,” Scholossberg noted.
Pennsylvania’s upcoming midterm elections have been described by many as being the deciding factor in whether or not abortion will remain legal in the state. The section of the ballot that is garnering the most attention is the gubernatorial race between Attorney General Josh Shapiro and State Senator for PA’s 33rd district Doug Mastriano. Speaking hypothetically on what each candidate would do if elected, Schlossberg stated that “[Governor Wolf] vetoed [abortion ban] bills in the past and will do so again. So will Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for Governor. Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee, will sign total bans, no exceptions.”
While many pro-choice advocates are hopeful that the Dobbs ruling will incite an influx of enraged citizens to vote for Democratic candidates, some believe that economic issues like inflation will take precedence. Professor of political science and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, Christopher Borick, Ph.D., shared his thoughts on the matter saying, “In the current midterm cycle Republicans have a strong advantage, with the President’s party almost always suffering losses. This year’s issues like inflation, crime and President Biden’s fairly low approval rating have compounded the challenge for Democrats. The Dobbs decision does help energize more left leaning voters who have been less excited about engaging in the midterms, and thus modestly improves the prospects for Democrats this November.”
However, access to abortion may not be the only issue bringing left-leaning voters to the polls. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas expressed that the same reasoning behind Roe v. Wade’s reversal could be used to overturn other decisions that were made based on the same precedent. These include cases dealing with same-sex marriage and access to contraception. Marissa Scharf ‘24 communicated her concerns with Thomas’s opinion saying, “What’s even more terrifying is the fact that this easily sets a precedent that will help to roll back other rights, such as same-sex marriage and access to birth control. This is a dark day for this nation. And I fear we will have many more ‘dark days’ ahead.” Ross Dardani Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science whose courses concentrate on the Supreme Court and Constitutional law. Dardani provided background on the “substantive due process precedent” outlined by Thomas in his opinion saying, “Put simply, substantive due process is the theory that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects more than just procedural rights. So, for example, because of the Fourteenth Amendment, you aren’t just guaranteed a fair process when the government (federal, state or local) attempts to take away your life, liberty, or property, but you are also guaranteed certain fundamental rights and liberties that are so integral to human freedom that they can never be violated. There is a long history of this theory that goes back to the history of slavery in the United States and its influence on the creation of the Reconstruction Amendments.”
Professor of political science Jack Gambino, Ph.D., believes that continuing along Thomas’s legal pathway is “certainly where the more radical parts of the conservative movement (white evangelicals and conservative Catholics) want to go. But Justice Alito, perhaps responding to Justice Thomas’s more extreme position, expressly stated in his opinion that taking away abortion rights should not apply to other rights that have been previously establish[ed]. But many of the legal analysts I read say, Alito’s comment notwithstanding, that other rights are indeed made vulnerable by the Court’s decision.” Gambino asserted that some more moderate conservatives might be worried about “how far the implications of the Dobbs case might go toward upsetting rights that most Americans have come to accept, including the use of contraceptives, interracial and gay marriages.”
Schlossberg emphasized that he did not want to leave protections for abortion access completely up to the state. He outlined his plans saying, “I will work to see if abortion protections can be enacted in Allentown, including buffer zones that would force protestors further back from a woman and her loved ones as they entered a clinic.” Allentown’s mayor Matt Tuerk highlighted resources in the city that individuals seeking reproductive health care can access saying, “Our residents have a great support system with our staff in the Allentown Health Bureau. And while they’re always eager to help and will work to ensure wellness for our residents, we do highly encourage people to use the Allentown Health Bureau to establish a relationship with a doctor. In Allentown, in addition to Planned Parenthood, we also have the FQHC’s: Neighborhood Health Center of the Lehigh Valley, Valley Health Partners, and Star Community Health that people can seek out for reproductive healthcare services.”
One race that may impact how the Dobbs ruling is dealt with in the state legislature is PA’s newly redrawn 14th Senate district. Competing for the seat is Democratic candidate Nick Miller and his Republican opponent Dean Browning. The Weekly was able to speak with both candidates about their views on potential state-wide abortion bans. Browning stressed that “The Supreme Court had not ‘banned abortion’ but has returned the decision to the states and their respective legislatures. PA already permits abortion with certain restrictions.” However, despite his reassurance that abortion is still accessible in the Commonwealth, Browning stated that he “believe[s] that the moment of conception…creates a unique, separate human life and that life is deserving of protection and due process at that point…and I will vote for laws that recognize that.” Browning noted that he would vote for a ban with no exceptions saying, “rape and incest are awful, they’re horrible…However, the women that have gone through that deserve our utmost sympathy for the impact that that has had on them. I don’t think we further that objective by further subjecting them to more trauma of going through an abortion.” Miller gave an opinion counter to Browning saying, “I plan to vote against any anti-choice bill in the State Senate. Reproductive Rights [are] an essential form of health care which is a human right, and state funds should support health care.”
On the federal level, Congresswoman Susan Wild represents Pennsylvania’s seventh district in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Congresswoman spoke with The Weekly about codifying Roe into federal law. “I was, and am, proud to have co-sponsored and voted in favor of H.R. 3755 Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021. It passed the House and went to the Senate where it failed on May 11, 2022, shortly after the release of the leaked Supreme Court opinion that heralded the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The legislation would have proactively protected access to reproductive health care, including abortion, at the federal level. Senate Republicans have been unanimous in their opposition to this bill. I am in favor of continuing to find avenues through which we can protect this most fundamental right—the right to bodily autonomy and self-determination,” stated Wild.
However, Wild is wary about taking steps to balance out the conservative majority in the Supreme Court saying, “Expanding the Supreme Court now, while the American people’s trust in the Court is already sinking, would not be productive long-term as the Court will need to regain the public’s trust and address this miscarriage of justice.” Dardani confirmed that there are not enough votes in Congress to structurally reform the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, Dardani noted that “there are much better ways to structure the Court for predictability and its legitimacy, especially term-limits set up in a way where every president would be guaranteed a certain number of nominations. The Court’s legitimacy is about to be tested in a way it hasn’t experienced since the Lochner Era and the New Deal, but with its current make-up I don’t think public opinion of the Court isn’t going to matter to Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett.”
Muhlenberg students had mixed responses regarding the Court’s decision. When asked about her initial reaction to the news of the decision, Jolie Lanning ‘25 said, “My anxiety immediately started kicking in when I heard the news, but my reaction wasn’t as emotional as I thought it would be. I honestly think I wasn’t as panicked because I went through the grieving process way back when the draft was first announced.” Co-president of Muhlenberg’s Planned Parenthood Generation club (PPGen), Emily Orlich ‘24 stated, “I saw the decision and I immediately started crying and wanted to scream. This is going to be a death sentence for so many people across the country, especially lower income people.” One student, who chose to remain anonymous, had a different perspective. They said, “as someone that is pro-life, I was pretty happy to hear the news. However, I also believe that the new restrictions have to coincide with passing comprehensive support for those that have an unplanned pregnancy and expanding access to contraception, to make the need for abortion negligent.”
When speaking with The Weekly, several Muhlenberg students expressed their desires for the College to act in response to the Supreme Court. Planned Parenthood Generation’s other co-president Carina Filemyr ‘23 believes that “Muhlenberg can guide students to both community and student-led resources. [These could include] posters that advertise birth control, the closest Planned Parenthood or services offered by our health care providers on campus.” Scharf echoed Filemyr’s sentiments saying, “I think Muhlenberg should sponsor more educational programming about reproductive healthcare and abortion. Campus organizations like Voices of Strength (under Title IX and Prevention Education), Berg FemCo and Planned Parenthood Generation do incredible work, but their reach is limited. Resources should be advertised and made available to all students, not just those in the know about these organizations.”
In a statement sent out to the entire student body, President Kathleen Harring expressed the College’s general view on the Court’s ruling. “We recognize the weight of the Supreme Court decision and the impact it has for current and future members of our educational community, particularly individuals of color and those with financial hardship,” stated Harring. In regards to the actions that Muhlenberg is planning to take, Harring said, “When students return to campus, the Health & Counseling Center staff will be available to answer any questions regarding their care.”
Dean of Students, Allison Williams seconded this and stressed the importance of the College aiding students who live in areas where reproductive health care has become less accessible. “For students who live in a state where there has been an immediate impact, if they are in need of assistance, I urge them to call the Health Center or Director of Equity and Title IX for immediate consultation and connection to medical, emotional support and financial resources,” said Williams. In addition, Williams outlined the resources the College provides for individuals in need of abortion services saying, “the Health Center connects students with the Allentown Women’s Center. The Center offers financial assistance for those who qualify and if students need assistance with transportation and before and after care, the Health Center and the Dean of Students Office can coordinate and support these requests.”
Mental health resources are also going to be a critical factor in dealing with the aftermath of the Dobbs case, according to Williams. She stated that “[Muhlenberg is] also very fortunate to partner closely with local agencies and private therapist[s] who specialize in trauma related to sexual health, gender, sexuality and other critical issues. Our Counseling Center can help refer students to these specialists as needed and will work to bring these local agencies’ resources to our students on campus through advocacy and education.”
A rise in activism has ensued after the Court’s decision was released with individuals attending protests and rallies in support of their respective causes. The Weekly reached out to New Voices for Reproductive Justice, a pro-choice organization working in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and Students for Life of America, a pro-life group that organizes in many cities including Allentown.
When asked how students could get involved in pro-life activism, Liana Hollendonner, Students for Life of America’s Atlantic Regional Manager stated, “The first step is to educate the community about the truth that abortion destroys a valuable human life, the abortion industry hurts and exploits women, and there is access to free, life-affirming care. The next step is to ensure that no woman stands alone in a Post-Roe America by supporting local pregnancy help organizations. Standing With You is a program which connects women and families in need to the closest free or low-cost assistance nearby. Their mission is to create support for pregnant and parenting mothers on campus. The Campaign for Abortion Free Cities is also a fully launched program in Allentown, PA – a movement to educate communities, expose the greedy abortion industry, and serve women in need. Anyone can become a Standing With You advocate or Abortion Free Cities partner by going to standingwithyou.com and abortionfreecities.com.”
LeeVetta Smith, Community Programs Director for New Voices for Reproductive Justice, conveyed to The Weekly how students can get involved with their organization as well as pro-choice advocacy in general saying, “Any college students that are serious about Reproductive Justice can connect with us for potential programming internships in Environmental Justice and Youth Development. Additionally, interested students can connect with us through our Voice Your Vote! Project, whether they are interested in serving as a volunteer or as a part-time employee. For a list of all of our job openings go to https://newvoicesrj.org/jobs. Connect with your local Reproductive Justice organizations and movements, research clinics and abortion funds and mutual aid funds in your area, stay informed of what is at stake, write or call your legislators to urge them to push for codification of Roe v. Wade into law, and, of course, get out and vote and encourage your circle to do the same… While we know that voting is not the resolution to our fight, its efficacy as a harm reduction tactic cannot be overlooked.”
Getting out to vote during the midterm elections in November is crucial for individuals who feel that access to abortion should be restricted or increased. Wild stated that “We must turn out in November to hold the majority in the House and expand it in the Senate so that we have the votes to codify Roe. In Congress, I will continue fighting to codify Roe into federal law and will be working with my colleagues to advance legislation that protects those seeking to access abortion care.” President of BergVotes, Rebecca Salkin ‘24, outlined how her club is planning on getting the student body civically engaged stating, “Voting is extremely important, your vote is your voice. Elections have consequences so it is important to make your voice and your opinions heard…The deadline to register to vote in the 2022 midterm in the state of Pennsylvania is October 24…We are here to help with any and all questions about voting! Once the semester starts we will be tabling at least once a week to register and we are always available over Instagram DM (@bergvotes) or by reaching out to any club members!”
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