Abortion access becomes central issue in Pennsylvania’s race for governor

Abortion access is now a key issue in races across the U.S. after news the Supreme Court is on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade. But the stakes are especially high in Pennsylvania, where two candidates with sharply divided stances on the issue will face off for governor in an election that may determine abortion law in the state. Lisa Desjardins reports on how the issue is shaking up the race.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Abortion access is now a key issue in races across the country since news that the Supreme Court seems to be on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade.

    But the stakes are especially high in Pennsylvania, where two candidates with sharply divided stances on the issue will face off for governor in an election that will likely determine abortion law in the state.

    Lisa Desjardins is back now with some time she spent with voters and advocates across the political spectrum about how this issue is shaking up the race.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In Pennsylvania, energy and opportunity on both sides of one of the most divisive issues in politics.

  • Woman:

    It's a beautiful day.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    At the state capitol, they are gathering.

    Kelly Davis, News Voices for Reproductive Justice: We have been put on notice. Everybody has been put on notice.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Fired up and posters in tow, Kelly Davis is heading to the statehouse.

  • Kelly Davis:

    Where in a watershed moment again.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    She leads New Voices for Reproductive Justice, an advocacy group focused on the health of Black women and queer people.

    In the wake of the leaked Supreme Court opinion. She sees that at risk and her state as a battleground.

  • Kelly Davis:

    Americans generally think about abortion access or abortion restrictions, they think that this is a Southern issue. Oh, that's Mississippi. Oh, that's Louisiana. Oh, that's Alabama.

    But the truth is, the most draconian legislation around abortion restrictions was proposed right here in this state.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    She means the Casey v. Planned parenthood case. The 1992 Supreme Court decision blocked Pennsylvania restrictions and upheld a national right to abortion.

    If abortion becomes a state-by-state issue, 26 states would likely ban or could impose new restrictions. Pennsylvania is not one of them. The future of the issue here is to be determined and to be fought. Both sides in the debate have made the state a focal point. This weekend, hundreds who want to keep abortion legal rallied passionately on the steps of the capitol, where Kelly delivered a call to action.

  • Kelly Davis:

    Fight on and know deep down, we will win!

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Man:

    I'm actually going to vote.

  • Woman:

    We're tired of this. We're ready to be heard.

  • Man:

    There's all this talk about, well, what will happen in Texas? What will happen in Oklahoma? It's going to happen here in Pennsylvania. It's going to happen next year if we don't still have a Democratic governor.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Under current Pennsylvania law, abortion is legal up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. But there is no question the Republican legislature here wants to change that.

  • Gov. Tom Wolf, D-Pa.:

    : Abortion access in Pennsylvania will remain legal and safe as long as I am governor.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So far, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf has stood in the way, vetoing three anti-abortion bills sent to his desk. But he is term-limited and leaving office, leaving voters with a stark high-stakes choice about who will succeed him.

    Josh Shapiro (D), Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Candidate: Your rights are on the line.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On the left, Attorney General Josh Shapiro ran unopposed in the primary. He's best known for investigating abuse in the Catholic Church and defeating the Trump campaign's voter fraud claims. He understands abortion is part of his race.

  • Josh Shapiro:

    The next job well how long his desk a bill that bans abortion in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I will veto that bill when it reaches my desk!

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Shapiro is trying to expand the Democratic map, campaigning here at a brewery in deep red Huntingdon County. His focus is on keeping abortion access where it is now.

  • Josh Shapiro:

    I want to protect Pennsylvania law, but I also want to protect the fundamental freedoms of Pennsylvanians to be able to make decisions over their own bodies.

  • Man:

    The four Republican candidates.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On the right, the crowded Republican field for governor was united on abortion, backing a total or near total ban.

  • Man:

    I have made exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

  • Man:

    Rape, incest, and for the life of the mother only.

  • Man:

    I would not have any exceptions.

    Doug Mastriano (D), Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Candidate: I don't give way for exceptions either.

  • ]Lisa Desjardins:

    Yesterday, Republicans chose one of their most conservative candidates, state Senator Doug Mastriano, bolstered by a last-minute endorsement from former President Donald Trump.

    Mastriano is a consistent, ardent firebrand who recently shut out most press, including us, from campaign events. He falsely denies the 2020 election results and attended the January 6 pro-Trump rally in Washington.

  • Doug Mastriano:

    We're here to change the course of history.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He is one of the state's loudest voices against legal abortion, sponsoring a ban starting around five or six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they're pregnant.

  • Doug Mastriano:

    We turn our backs on the most vulnerable, those who don't have a voice, and let them be massacred in the womb.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    To what degree do you think this governor's race will determine the future of abortion in Pennsylvania?

  • Marlene Downing, Susan B. Anthony List:

    I think it's the most important race that we have right now.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Marlene Downing is part of an invigorated anti-abortion movement. A native Pennsylvania, she is a longtime believer that life begins at conception and previously ran a crisis pregnancy center. Now she works for the Susan B. Anthony List, a national anti-abortion group.

    Today, they're in a key Philly suburb, knocking on doors. They aim to have personal conversations about abortion and hand out literature telling voters to reject candidates who support abortion rights, like Shapiro.

  • Marlene Downing:

    I'm Marlene with Susan B. Anthony List.

    They found Adele Deegan-Tindell at her door.

  • Adele Deegan-Tindell, Pennsylvania Voter:

    I have three boys. And we were all literally just having this conversation in the kitchen the other night because of what's happening with the Supreme Court.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    She's a former Democrat who wants more abortion restrictions.

  • Adele Deegan-Tindell:

    I do believe in a woman's choice in certain instances, but I believe in the baby. Who stands up for the baby?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Marlene says, that's why she's here. And she has noticed a change in the past two weeks.

  • Marlene Downing:

    Prior to the leak, going through the doors, I have had people say, abortion is not really on the top of my list. I haven't heard that lately.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The two sides are intensely jockeying. But we found voters in the middle.

  • Denise Donlon, Pennsylvania Voter:

    I do believe it's the right of women to choose for their own body. But I think there should be limitations.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Denise Donlon is a registered Republican and mother who sympathizes with people at all stages in this debate.

  • Denise Donlon:

    Anyone going through an abortion, it's a very hard thing. It's a very tough, tough, tough thing to have to live with that for the rest of your life.

    But I think that you have to do what's right for you. But there should be still some limitations.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What would you like to see change in Pennsylvania on abortion? Would you like more restrictions than now?

  • Denise Donlon:

    I would like to see 15 weeks as more of a restriction.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But on the ballot for governor will be a Republican who wants a near ban on abortion and a Democrat who wants to preserve current law at 24 weeks.

    Katie Meyer covers politics for public media's WHYY?

  • Katie Meyer, WHYY:

    Maybe there's voters who would like to see a middle ground. Maybe that's where more voters actually are, even in the Republican Party. But that's — that has not been on the table.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What is on the table for Pennsylvania are difficult, intense months ahead over abortion.

  • Kelly Davis:

    I think that this has the potential to unify, at least on this one issue, certain subsets of society who previously thought of as having political agendas that were at odds.

  • Marlene Downing:

    On both sides, or people that are for abortion and against abortion will actually make that an important — important topic for them, because they know that it's something very important to the people.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's charging up everyone.

  • Marlene Downing:

    It's charging up everyone.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The abortion issue is already electric. And the Supreme Court has yet to issue its final opinion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa has since returned from Pennsylvania. She joins us now.

    So, Lisa, in your reporting, you are noting intense — what you called an intense political charge running through this debate. Did you get any sense that these disagreements might actually turn physical?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Not yet, but we did pick up on some notable changes here.

    Kelly Davis, who runs New Voices for Reproductive Justice, told me that, since the leaked opinion came out, she and her staff have seen a very marked uptick in racial slurs hurled at them, racist language at them in person when they go to the door, as well as online.

    She says that they are now putting in place different kinds of security protocols when they are out there trying to do their outreaches. And she says that this is the first time she's really felt a hovering threat to her safety.

    At the same time. I also want to show you a photo of something that I saw at that rally in favor of abortion rights on the step of the capitol. That is Judge Alito. What is blurred out there is Justice Alito's home address. This same person also had a sign. On the back of that sign was Justice Kavanaugh's home address, which also, of course, we have blurred out.

    So this shows that the fight has become personal at people in leadership roles. And we know that justices on the Supreme Court, there's a sense that they need more security right now around the building itself. And I think that we're in a charged atmosphere. As everyone knows, charged air can be dangerous.

    So the words that everyone on all sides uses and their actions going forward really will matter on how this goes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Such important reporting at this moment.

    Lisa Desjardins just back from Pennsylvania.

    Thank you, Lisa.

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