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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. Photo: Getty Images

PA Governor Tom Wolf further safeguards abortion access, signs new executive order

The Governor's Mansion restates their commitment to abortion rights in Philadelphia by way of Executive Order

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Out-of-state abortion seekers will find safe haven in Pennsylvania as the Commonwealth’s governor, Tom Wolf, signed an executive order on July 12, 2022, to install new protections for those who could not access abortions in their home states. 

Although the Republican legislature attempts to thwart Wolf’s authority via constitutional amendments, the Governor’s Mansion remains committed to keeping abortion legal for PA residents and those who cross state lines. 

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, as many as 13 states activated trigger laws in the event that the country’s highest court reversed the landmark decision, a critical circumstance necessary for anti-abortion legislatures to act. 

Pictured: Map of the United States. Pinned are the states with trigger laws in place.

 

Those residing in states where legislatures enacted trigger laws must resort to finding abortion providers elsewhere, as seeking medical attention is not punishable by law. Although there is not much precedent for criminally charging those who cross state lines, legal scholars argue that the courts will determine on a case-by-case basis. 

David Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University School of Law, explained how states can offer different forms of legal safeguards to both patients and abortion providers in a draft journal article

For example, states can restrict access to providers’ addresses to avoid threats by extremist groups. Moreover, Cohen explained that states can also “expand address confidentiality programs to include providers and patients.” 

New York and Delaware are examples of states that followed this procedure and pursued comprehensive legislation known as interstate shield laws, whereby abortion-friendly states prevent legal recourse from other anti-abortion states. 

PA joined the multistate endeavor to protect out-of-state abortions from legal liability by way of executive order on July 12, when Wolf made the announcement. 

“This action protects our abortion providers and people who seek abortion from out-of-state from prosecution,” Wolf wrote on Twitter.

 

Need to know:

  • The order prevents executive agencies under the governor’s branch from cooperating with any investigation related to an investigation initiated by another state.

The document notes that the restrictions do not apply if the conduct is subject to criminal liability or if action is required by federal law. 

  • Executive agencies are directed to work with providers on implementing policies that would ensure that no person would be subject to losing their licensure so long as the service provided is lawful under the Commonwealth. 
  • Executive agencies must communicate comprehensive reproductive health information to the public, as well as the protection of data stored digitally or on personal devices.
  • The Governor will decline warrants by the authority of other states for arresting or surrendering a subject seeking reproductive health services.
  • Under the United States Constitution, if the person is present in the requesting state, the order need not apply. 
  • The order will be implemented in a manner consistent with applicable law.

Legislatively, there is a long way to go before equitable protections can be afforded to those seeking abortions. However, it is clear that current leadership remains committed to protecting out-of-state citizens within the bounds of applicable PA law. 

Women's Law Project, a nonprofit legal organization and advocacy group in Pennsylvania said the following in a statement following Wolf's executive order:

"Make no mistake: Every Pennsylvanian has something to lose through the avalanche of constitutional amendments being pushed through our Legislature. We are in a crisis and need everyone to know their rights, speak up, and fight for a Pennsylvania where we can all thrive without interference and intrusion from our state government."

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