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May 05, 2022

Could number of out-of-state women seeking abortions in Pennsylvania multiply if Roe v. Wade is overturned?

Advocacy group says, pending Supreme Court's decision, the state would become location of closest clinics to have the procedure for 2.1 million women

If the U.S. Supreme Court overrules Roe v. Wade, Pennsylvania could become the closest state where abortions remain legal for nearly 2 million more women living in neighboring and nearby states, data from an organization that supports abortion rights shows.

Currently, with Roe v. Wade intact, Pennsylvania is the nearest abortion provider to 170,000 women living in places where abortions have been banned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a group that describes itself as an advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights. If the draft of the leaked Supreme Court opinion becomes reality, the organization estimates that number will swell to 2.1 million women who live in areas where their nearest abortion provider is located in Pennsylvania.

Most of these potential patients, 1.8 million, live in Ohio. Another 150,000 women are Michigan residents; 49,000 are in West Virginia; and 3,200 are in Kentucky.

The Guttmacher Institute illustrated its data with a map showing how individual state's total abortion bans, 15-week bans and 20-week bans would impact the distance women would have to travel to the nearest abortion provider in the U.S.

Abortion laws in Ohio have become more restrictive in recent years and there are only six abortion providers operating in the state, compared to 45 in Pennsylvania. It is likely all abortion rights in Ohio would be eliminated if Roe is overturned.

In Michigan, there has been an unenforced pre-Roe law on the books since 1931 banning abortions and that could take effect again, pending the Supreme Court's decision. West Virginia also has a pre-Roe law that is currently unenforceable. It criminalizes receiving an abortion, making it punishable by three to 10 years in prison. Kentucky has a trigger law that would take effect immediately upon the Supreme Court's announcement potentially striking down Roe v. Wade, and it would ban abortions in that state.

In Pennsylvania in 2020, 93% of the 32,000 abortions performed were on women who were state residents, the latest report from the Pennsylvania Department of Health says. Of all the abortions in the state, 37% were conducted in Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania's 1982 Abortion Control Act requires a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking the procedure and mandatory counseling. Abortions may be performed up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and there are exceptions for later abortions in cases of sexual assaults, incest or to protect a woman's life.

This week, Gov. Tom Wolf promised to veto any anti-abortion legislation the Republican-controlled State Assembly may pass between now and the end of his term in early 2023. But the longer future of abortion rights in Pennsylvania could depend on who gets elected governor in November.

The race is considered a toss-up between Josh Shapiro, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary this month, and any candidate from a field of Republicans, each of whom has expressed the desire to make Pennsylvania's laws more restrictive or implement an all-out ban on abortions.

Doug Mastriano, the GOP frontrunner, supports a "heartbeat bill," which would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which usually happens about six weeks into a pregnancy. Some medical professionals say fetal heartbeat is a misleading standard, because a fetuses heart is not formed at this point in a woman's pregnancy. The sound is the result of electrical activity between the embryo's cells, which can be detected by an ultrasound machine.

Among Pennsylvanians, there is little support for a complete ban on abortions, according to a recent Franklin & Marshall poll. The poll found that 14% of residents favor a ban, while 54% want it legal in some circumstances and 31% want it legal under any circumstance.