Midterms’ Biggest Abortion Battleground: Pennsylvania


Republicans are deeply skeptical that abortion can reanimate the Democratic base. “Their people are depressed,” said Rob Gleason, a former chair of the Pennsylvania Republican Party. “Nothing’s going to be able to save them this year. Speaking from Philadelphia after a road trip from his home in western Pennsylvania, Mr. Gleason said: “I stopped on the turnpike and paid $5.40 a gallon for gas. That reminds me every time I fill up, I want a change.”

Pennsylvania’s large Roman Catholic population — about one in five adults — has afforded electoral space for a tradition of anti-abortion Democratic officials, including Senator Bob Casey Jr., and his father, Bob Casey Sr., who served as governor. A law that the senior Casey pushed through the legislature in the 1980s included some abortion restrictions, which was challenged in the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The court upheld most of the state’s restrictions, while affirming Roe v. Wade’s grant of a right to abortion. The leaked draft of the court’s opinion last week, written by Justice Samuel Alito, would overturn the Casey ruling along with Roe.

Still, support for abortion rights in Pennsylvania has gradually increased, according to polling by Franklin & Marshall College over more than a decade.

Last month, 31 percent of registered voters said abortion should be legal in all circumstances, up from 18 percent in 2009. Those calling for abortion to be illegal in all circumstances declined to 16 percent, from 22 percent in 2009. A broad middle group, 53 percent, said abortion should be legal under “certain circumstances.”

The issue had not ranked high among the state’s voters before the Supreme Court leak. In a Monmouth University poll last month, abortion was cited as one of Pennsylvania voters’ top two issues by just 5 percent of Democrats and 3 percent of Republicans. Inflation topped the concerns of voters in both parties.

In Hanover Township, outside Allentown, an affluent suburb in a onetime Republican enclave that has trended blue, Dave Savage and Vincent Milite, both center-right voters, were analyzing the abortion issue through the eyes of their adult daughters, while loading groceries outside a Wegmans supermarket.

Mr. Savage, 63, said that his 30-year-old daughter felt strongly that abortion should be legal, and that therefore it would be an important issue for him in November.


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