Democrats are gearing up to invest millions in the next major battleground over the divisive issue of abortion rights, less than a month after their double-digit victory on the issue in Ohio.
In Pennsylvania, across the border, a state supreme court seat is up for election this November, and the two major party candidates are at odds about who would best safeguard “women’s reproductive rights” and who will best defend “all life under the law.”
After Roe v. Wade’s overturn last year, state Supreme Court elections, which were previously unnoticed, have become expensive, high-stakes affairs, as evidenced by the big struggle over a state Supreme Court seat. In the background, a Democratic Party super PAC is planning to make abortion a central issue in the upcoming election. The pro-choice organisation Planned Parenthood has joined the fray. Some of the state’s most prominent Democrats have even speculated that the contest could end up mirroring Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election this year, in which a liberal candidate won handily by making abortion an issue in the campaign.
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) predicted that abortion will be the top issue in the state’s high court contest. “Abortion was the single most important reason why Democrats won by more than 10 points in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race just a few months ago. Something like that happening in Pennsylvania is plausible to me.
As a bellwether in a crucial swing state for the 2024 presidential election, the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court contest will be closely monitored by both parties. The outcome will show Democrats whether or not they can continue to outrun President Joe Biden’s dismal approval ratings and whether or not Americans are still mobilised by abortion a year after Roe v. Wade was struck down. This case will test the Republican Party’s ability to adapt to a post-Roe political landscape.
Although the state Supreme Court’s majority will not be changed by this year’s election, future races will be affected by the outcome. In 2025, there will be a retention vote for three Democratic justices.
Experts predict that this year’s contest for the state supreme court will be one of the most expensive in the state’s history.
According to J.J. Abbott, a Democratic strategist in Pennsylvania with ties to abortion rights groups, “you’re probably looking at something in the range of $20 million, $25 million.” As one expert put it, “if Pennsylvania were to limit it, there would be really significant repercussions nationally in terms of access to reproductive care.”
However, many GOP operatives and officials view the whole affair as fiction. After the 2022 midterms, they said they expected Democrats to once again use abortion as a political wedge issue. Since abortion is already legal in Pennsylvania and Democrats control both the governorship and the state legislature, proponents of this view say that the issue is not actually on the ballot this year.
According to Pennsylvania Republican consultant Josh Novotney, “there is not going to be any abortion bill coming out of Harrisburg anytime soon.” This is just a distraction so that we can avoid discussing things like education and employment.
But Democrats say that the 4-2 majority on the seven-member court is essential to protecting abortion rights in the state. They note that last year, Republican Doug Mastriano, who was strongly against making any exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother in abortion cases, was nominated for governor.
The abortion issue has been central to the campaign of Superior Court Judge and Democratic contender for state Supreme Court Dan McCaffery. While campaigning, he has made clear his displeasure with the Dobbs decision and highlighted the support of the Pennsylvania chapter of Planned Parenthood’s political action committee.
It’s fairly apparent from a personal position that I feel those particular concerns are best decided between a woman, her conscience, and her doctor,” McCaffery said in an interview. Abortion is lawful in Pennsylvania up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, he said, adding, “and I will obviously uphold the law.”
McCaffery’s supporters have begun using abortion as a weapon against his Republican opponent, Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Carolyn Carluccio.
The super PAC Planned Parenthood Votes has started a six-figure digital ad campaign this month accusing Carluccio of “hiding her extreme anti-abortion views,” referring to the fact that the Republican took down a resume from her website in which she defined herself as a protector of “all life under the law.” The ad also criticises the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation for endorsing her.
According to a source connected to the pro-McCaffery super PAC Pennsylvanians for Judicial Fairness who requested anonymity because they were not authorised to talk publicly, the group plans to focus on Carluccio’s record on abortion.
According to a study done this month by Franklin & Marshall College, 38% of Pennsylvania voters believe abortion should be permitted under all conditions, while another 42% believe it should be permissible under certain situations. Only 13% of respondents agreed that it should be always illegal.
Carluccio told HEADLINESFOREVER that judicial rules prevent her from commenting on abortion. At the same time, she presented herself as an impartial judge who would not shake up the established order when it came to abortion.
To paraphrase, “I have to follow the judicial canons so I can’t take stances on anything that might come before me,” she added. I’m not what you’d call an activist judge. Pennsylvania law protects women’s reproductive rights, and I’m a firm believer in obeying the law regardless of who made it or what they think about it.
Carluccio’s consultant, Rob Brooks, clarified the meaning of the removed text from her webpage as follows: “Defending all life under the law is simply that… under the law. Justice Carluccio devoted her life to defending constitutional rights, advocating for victims, and maintaining the rule of law. His statement that “in Pennsylvania, women’s reproductive rights are protected by law” was echoed by his promise that “she will uphold the law.”
Republicans are cautiously hopeful about the election, despite their party’s lack of outward confidence compared to the Democrats. Carluccio, the establishment’s choice, won the Republican primary and defeated Mastriano’s hardline Republican ally.
Republican insiders in the state view Carluccio as moderate, and they see her as the best candidate to cope with the expected abortion charges because she is a woman from the Philadelphia suburbs who has worked closely with Democratic judges in her county.
Despite what you may have heard, “she is not extreme on any issue,” as put out by Novotney. That’s why Democrats are concerned. They can’t choose out one radical candidate to attack.
The efforts of Democrats and liberals to convince voters that Carluccio is too conservative have already begun. Political director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, Ryan Stitzlein, said, “though Carolyn Carluccio has tried to scrub her anti-abortion extremism from her website, Pennsylvanians know a phoney when they see one.”
McCaffrey, meanwhile, claims that he is receiving positive feedback about his position on abortion from voters.
Women’s reproductive rights are “the main issue that we’re hearing about,” said McCaffery. “I mean almost ad nauseam” in every visit they make. “Judicial elections have always been dull events. You could find someone willing to share their story. Someone who promises to treat you fairly and impartially would be the one you get. Women’s reproductive rights have emerged as a major concern.