Election Day conversation around abortion rights in Pennsylvania has centered on the races for governor and Senate. That focus assumes the makeup of the state legislature won’t change — which may not be the case.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto power has been a singular force preserving existing reproductive rights as Republicans in Harrisburg have tried to reduce them. Democrat Josh Shapiro has vowed to do the same if elected, while opponent Republican Doug Mastriano has already made efforts to ban most abortions in the commonwealth.
In the Senate contest, Democrat John Fetterman has pledged to pass a bill codifying Roe v. Wade’s protections, while Republican Mehmet Oz has said local political leaders should be involved in women’s decisions on abortion, rather than a federal law.
Control for now remains with the states — and in Pa., there exists the possibility of a shift in the legislature, though it would take a lot of shake-ups on Tuesday for Democrats to seize control.
It comes back to the legislative redistricting plan, which Pennsylvania finalized a few months before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The new boundaries pushed a number of incumbent legislators to announce retirements, creating open seats and competitive races in a number of areas where party split is now closer to 50/50.
The results of those races could determine the fate of dueling efforts to restrict abortion or expand abortion access in Pa.
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“The state legislative races are critical,” Pa. Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, a Democrat representing parts of Montgomery and Delaware counties, told Billy Penn.
Regarding the amendment some of her Republican colleagues are working to push through, which would expressly exclude abortion rights from the Pa. Constitution, Capelletti said it would be “a huge leap in the direction of criminalizing abortion care in Pennsylvania.”
Amendments work differently from other kinds of legislation. They can’t be vetoed by a governor. They must also pass during two separate legislative sessions and be approved by voters via a ballot referendum.
Who voted for the amendment so far
The constitutional amendment bill has already passed both chambers once. The votes didn’t fall precisely along party lines, but they were close.
Two of the 28 Republicans in the state Senate voted against the amendment, while one Democratic senator voted for it.
In the House, four of the 113 Republican representatives voted against the amendment, and one Democratic representative voted for it.
If the proposed amendment removing abortion rights passes again in the next legislative session, it could go to referendum as early as next year. The 2023 election is expected to be a low-turnout year statewide, which is more advantageous to the Republicans looking to limit abortion access.
At the same time, some Democratic legislators have been introducing bills to create protections for reproductive rights in Pa. law, even knowing those efforts would likely be blocked by the Republican majority.
If enough of the seats on the state’s new electoral map were to flip, those bills may get more support.
Will it? A few dozen races across Pa. likely hold the key.
How things might change
Seven Pa. House districts have no incumbent and are considered “competitive,” according to an analysis by Spotlight PA using Dave’s Redistricting App — this means neither major party has an overwhelming majority among likely voters, so the race could be close.
In another 17 Pa. House districts labeled competitive, incumbents face a challenge from the other major party.
The state Senate has fewer seats up for grabs, but could shift slightly. Six races have no incumbent, five of which are in competitive districts. In two other competitive Senate districts, Democratic incumbents are facing Republican challengers.
How does it shake out?
To gain control of the Pa. House, Democrats would need to keep all their current seats and gain 12 more.
In the state Senate, Democrats would have to win four seats and keep the ones they have. Democrats haven’t controlled the Pa. Senate since 1993.
However, two of the four House Republicans who voted against the abortion amendment — Rep. Shelby Labs (Bucks) and Rep. Craig Williams (Delaware/Chester) — are facing Democratic challengers in a district where the party split is close. So even if Dems take those seats, the next vote on the constitutional amendment might not change.