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July 12, 2022

Gov. Wolf signs executive order to protect abortion access for out-of-state travelers

Pennsylvania's upcoming gubernatorial election between Doug Mastriano and Josh Shapiro will determine the future of abortion rights in the state

As some states move to restrict or ban abortions in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order on Tuesday enhancing access for out-of-state abortion seekers traveling to Pennsylvania.

Wolf's executive order prohibits state agencies from taking part in investigations launched by other states over abortion services provided in Pennsylvania. It also allows state officials to decline requests by other states to issue arrest warrants for out-of-state travelers who had an abortion, and protects providers from losing their licenses as a result of assisting with abortions – as long as the procedure remains legal in the state.

The move comes just four months before a statewide gubernatorial election that will determine the future of abortion rights in Pennsylvania. For the duration of Wolf's final term, the procedure will remain legal and accessible. 

"The Supreme Court's decision to dismantle Roe v. Wade has invoked fear and uncertainty across our nation, but especially in states where access to reproductive health care services is being questioned and, in some cases, banned," said Wolf. "Here in Pennsylvania, I will not stand for this attack on women and pregnant people." 

The Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson on June 24 removed a federal protection for abortion that had remained in place for nearly 50 years. Now, decisions about whether and under what circumstances people can have abortions is left up to individual states. 

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor, has expressed that banning abortion statewide is one of his priorities as governor. As a state lawmaker, Mastriano introduced a "heartbeat bill" that would ban the procedure after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, and seeks to ban abortions with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. 

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for governor, said he would follow in Wolf's footsteps and veto any abortion ban that crosses his desk as governor. Throughout his seven years in office, Wolf has vetoed three bills that would have restricted abortion access.

Pennsylvania's Republican-led state legislature has sought to restrict or ban abortions throughout Wolf's tenure. In addition to Mastriano's bill, Republican lawmakers proposed a constitutional amendment earlier this year that would declare that there is no right to an abortion in Pennsylvania. 

In order for a constitutional amendment to be implemented, both the state House and Senate have to advance the legislation in two consecutive sessions of Congress. If passed, the amendment would then appear as a ballot measure for voters to make the decision. If approved by voters, the governor has no veto power over it, and it would be added to the state constitution. 

The proposed amendment has already advanced through one session of Congress, as the state House and Senate approved the measure in the late hours of Thursday, July 7, while lawmakers were working to pass the 2023 state budget. Republican lawmakers in the Senate Rules Committee waived an existing rule prohibiting votes after 11 p.m., and the amendment passed largely along party lines. 

The move was heavily criticized by Democratic lawmakers as a last-ditch effort to restrict abortion rights in Pennsylvania. In particular, Montgomery County Sen. Katie Muth expressed her disdain for the vote in a speech on Thursday night. 

If passed in next year's session of Congress, the amendment could be on the ballot for Pennsylvania voters as early as May 2023's primary election. 

Wolf's executive order will remain in place through the end of his term, though his successor is able to rescind or retract it in its entirety once they are sworn into office.