After shift in Supreme Court balance, states like Pennsylvania could become the new abortion rights battleground

by Sophie Burkholder

The confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court a week before the 2020 election set off waves of alarm for abortion rights advocates — and celebration for abortion opponents. With a firm conservative majority, Barrett’s confirmation could mean the weakening or even overturn of Roe v. Wade, a move that would put more power in the hands of states that have sought to tighten abortion restrictions.

Conservative states from Mississippi to North Dakota have already passed laws tightening the rules for abortion providers, which has caused some states to lose nearly all of their providers. West Virginia and Ohio are increasingly dominated by conservative state governments that support heartbeat bills — legislation that prevents a woman from having an abortion after detection of a fetal heartbeat. As a result, Pittsburgh abortion providers think that they could soon see an influx of women searching for abortions they can’t get close to home.

“We’re constantly talking about surges,” said Ryah Issa, the director of nursing at the Allegheny Reproductive Health Center in Pittsburgh. “We have plans set in place so that if, all of a sudden, we start doubling our intake, I know what extra supplies to get and what extra staff we need.” 

Abortion opponents in Pittsburgh, meanwhile, are already looking ahead to 2022 when they hope they can flip the governor’s seat and pave the way for increasingly stringent abortion laws. Currently the state is split between a Republican held legislature and a Democratic governor. 

 “It’s going to be very difficult to get anything done as long as Governor Wolf is in office,” said Isaac Bruce, the vice president for People Concerned for the Unborn Child, a nonprofit anti-abortion advocacy and education group based in Dormont. “Ideally, a very staunch pro-life governor would be best.”

Pittsburgh has become a hub for abortion care, as clinics in more rural areas of the state have shuttered and restrictions in neighboring states have increased. Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania operates one of only two freestanding abortion clinics in Allegheny County. 

And they are one of only two clinics for at least a hundred miles, often receiving patients from Northwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Around 10% to 15% of patients come from Ohio or West Virginia, said Sara Dixon, a public relations manager for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania. She expects that number to increase should Roe v. Wade be overturned and further restrictions be enacted in nearby states. 


After shift in Supreme Court balance, states like Pennsylvania could become the new abortion rights battleground


(Photo illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource)

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