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State must be pro-life beyond birth

May 12, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.

The leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that portends the demise of Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion in 1973, also would overturn the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania v. Casey.

Gov. Robert P. Casey, of Scranton, helped to craft and signed the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act, after vetoing a bill that anti-abortion advocates had devised directly to challenge Roe v. Wade. The law that Casey signed prompted Planned Parenthood's suit on grounds that the law violated the constitutional protection for abortion established by Roe v. Wade. Ruling in the case, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutional right to abortion in Roe but established a public interest in and governmental right to regulate abortion.

Now, anticipating Roe's demise, Republican state legislators are eager to act. Rep. Kathy Rapp of Warren County, chairwoman of the House Health Committee, said her caucus "is already well-positioned to successfully advance some of the strongest pro-life legislation in the history of our commonwealth."

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, an abortion-rights advocate, will veto such legislation. He is in his last year in office, so the abortion issue will loom large in impending legislative and gubernatorial elections.

Policy divide at birth

Lawmakers should be guided by Casey's views. He contradicted Democratic Party orthodoxy in opposing abortion, and infamously was denied the opportunity to speak on the subject at the 1992 Democratic convention, even though Pennsylvania then was the largest state with a Democratic governor.

He made good use of the controversy, conducting a series of heavily attended news conferences. Asked by one journalist why he did not switch parties, he offered a revealing reply: "Because the Republicans and I part company at birth."

Casey bristled when he was labeled a conservative, because he saw his pro-life stance as an extension of Democratic Party principles. He held that the issue was not only ending abortion, but using the power of the state to build the social and economic infrastructure to enable mothers, children and families to thrive.

The most obvious manifestation of that view is the Children's Health Insurance Program, which Casey launched and which now guarantees health coverage for every young child in the state. But Casey incorporated the philosophy into his governance regarding education, health care, assistance for the elderly and so on.

Contradictory state policy

That is not the governance template for most of today's "pro-life" legislators, for whom the term is a distinct issue covering pregnancy and is not tied to other elements of state policy.

It is evident in the Republican majorities' refusal to set a fair minimum wage, which last was raised to just $7.25 an hour when the federal government did so in 2009. Pennsylvania today is the only state in the entire Northeast with so low a rate, which cannot support a mother and child, much less a larger family.

Lawmakers willfully underfund some of the state's poorest school districts by refusing to apply the state's fair-funding formula to all state education funding. The Scranton School District alone would receive $30 million more every year under universal fair funding.

Likewise, Pennsylvania does not have universal pre-kindergarten or affordable child-care access. And shamefully, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate and 33rd-highest infant mortality rate among the 36 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

As candidates tout their pro-life credentials in this fall's legislative, congressional, Senate and gubernatorial campaigns, Pennsylvanians should recognize that their definition of "pro-life" is not a synonym for "pro-family."

-- Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice, May 8

Print Headline: State must be pro-life beyond birth

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