Image: Photo circulated by far-right gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano (center) to mark “national police week”
On July 8, the the Pennsylvania Senate and House passed Senate Bill 106, a package of state constitutional amendments that would add language specifying that “there is no right to abortion” in the state. The amendment would not immediately make abortion illegal in Pennsylvania, but it would create a pathway to deal a grave blow to women’s equality and deny that fundamental right to millions of people across the state.
In a double blow, the bill would also add language to the state constitution restricting the right to vote and adding new voter ID requirements. Voting restrictions have a long and racist history in the United States dating back to slavery and Jim Crow.
For the bill to become law, it must pass again in the next session of the PA legislature in September. Finally, it must also pass a public referendum. The governor cannot veto constitutional amendments in Pennsylvania.
A coordinated attack on abortion rights
These attacks on abortion rights follow the Supreme Court’s June 24 reversal of its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which declared the right to abortion to be protected by the U.S. constitution. Last month’s Dobbs ruling ended federally protected access to abortion and left the matter of the legality of abortion up to state legislatures.
The Supreme Court is an unelected, undemocratic body and represents the interests of the most right-wing sectors of the ruling class, not the people. Party for Socialism and Liberation members have been out in the streets alongside tens of thousands of others demanding that this dictatorial body be abolished once and for all. It is completely undemocratic for nine unelected judges to decide the fate of tens of millions of women across the country.
In the past, the court has functioned as a last line of defense against progressive movements in the United States. But as the example of Senate Bill 106 shows, the Supreme Court is also functioning in this current moment as the tip of the political spear in a coordinated assault against abortion rights.
The Roe reversal has opened the floodgates for Republicans to push their sexist, anti-worker agenda. The Republicans have had a long-term strategic focus on state legislatures, and they have been gaining ground. Currently, they control 62 chambers to the Democrats’ 36, with one chamber shared between the parties. The Republican Party is now using their control of these state lawmaking bodies to take advantage of the opening created by the reactionary and dictatorial Supreme Court. Trigger laws have already taken effect or are pending in many states, and bills like PA Senate Bill 106 which restrict or outlaw abortion are being introduced in dozens of states across the country.
The threat of far-right fundamentalism
This agenda of ultra-right religious fundamentalism is embodied by politicians like Doug Mastriano, who won the state Republican Party’s gubernatorial primary race in May. Mastriano is a key figure in what has been described as the Christian nationalist movement in the United States, a political current that seeks a system of government explicitly based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.
Mastriano is the author of Pennsylvania’s “heartbeat bill,” which seeks to completely outlaw abortion in the state. He was an active participant in the attempted insurrection led by Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021. Video footage from Jan. 6 shows Mastriano passing through police barricades at the Capitol after others initially breached the area. Mastriano has positioned himself as the most fanatical supporter of Donald Trump in state politics.
Mastriano’s Gubernatorial campaign has consistently promoted conspiracy theories including those inspired by QAnon. In multiple interviews, he has compared investigations into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol to the crackdown on civil rights carried out by the Nazi Party in Germany. He espouses disgusting, far-right views on many issues including abortion, which he opposes with no exceptions – including in cases of rape, incest, or in which the life of the mother is threatened by pregnancy.
Mastriano poses himself and his supporters as being on “God’s side,” viewing his campaign and movement essentially as a religious crusade against the left. He has called the separation of church and state a “myth” and is pushing his own fascistic agenda in the name of Christianity. The Christian nationalist movement is deeply enmeshed with the white supremacist movement in the United States, and Mastriano’s support for the racist policy of tightening voting restrictions, including those restrictions introduced with Senate Bill 106, is evidence of this.
Right-wing religious fundamentalism was an important dynamic in the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the 1973 Roe ruling and take away the federally-guaranteed right to abortion. In June, high-profile, anti-abortion evangelical activist Peggy Nienaber was recorded bragging about how she prayed with various Supreme Court justices inside the court. Outrageously, Justice Alito’s majority ruling overturning Roe cites an amicus brief written by Nienaber’s bosses at the tax-exempt evangelical religious legal organization Liberty Counsel, a group that frequently brings cases before the Supreme Court.
Amy Coney Barrett, a Supreme Court justice nominated by Donald Trump, was a speaker at a fellowship program promoting a “distinctly Christian worldview in every area of law.” Her presence in the Supreme Court is not a coincidence or an accident, but the outcome of a long-term strategy by the evangelical rightwing, including groups like Liberty Counsel, intent on a wholesale takeover of the legal system in the United States. Barrett is far from the only justice with ties to the evangelical right wing – others like Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito are also closely linked.
Nowhere does Christian scripture actually forbid abortion – evangelical arguments claiming that it does so rely upon highly interpretive and suspect readings of passages that clearly do not forbid abortion. Obviously, these right-wing crusaders are simply trying to cynically manipulate religious beliefs to bolster their effort to roll back fundamental rights. And of course from the point of view of the legal system, it should not make a difference whether whether any religion forbids abortion or not.
Democratic Party ‘strategically’ promotes the far right
The Democratic Party’s response to this full-on assault has been completely ineffective. They have treated abortion rights as a political bargaining chip, attempting to blackmail people into voting for them with the threat of losing the fundamental right of bodily autonomy. They have long since abandoned the rural areas of the country to the Republican Party, who have taken full advantage to build a strong base for their ultra-right agenda. Pennsylvania is one of many states in which far-right politicians espousing what were formerly considered “fringe” political views have been able to make their way into the mainstream.
But the Democrats have not just ineffectively opposed the rise of the far right in Pennsylvania. Recently, they have even begun to actively promote it as part of a shockingly narrow-minded electoral strategy. For example, the Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that certain television advertisements calculated to influence the Republican primary in favor of Doug Mastriano were paid for not by his campaign, but by the Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro. It appears Shapiro believes he has a better chance against Mastriano compared to other more “moderate” candidates running in the Republican primary, and is running ads to promote his preferred opponent.
These advertisements declared that Mastriano was “ahead in the polls” and mentioned that he is the author of Pennsylvania’s “heartbeat bill” that would “outlaw abortion.” The advertisement informs the viewer that “[Mastriano] wants to end vote by mail and he led the fight to audit the 2020 election” and “If Mastriano wins, it’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for.” These advertisements were clearly intended to amplify Mastriano’s campaign and repulsive political platform and ideology, all for the Democrats’ narrow electoral ends.
This strategy of promoting the far right has been taken up by the Democratic Party across the country. In California, a PAC supporting Nancy Pelosi paid for ads explicitly promoting right-wing GOP candidate Chris Mathys over his more moderate competitor in the state’s 22nd Congressional District. In June, a progressive super PAC in Colorado began running ads highlighting the conservatism of state representative Ron Hanks, who has questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election. The Democrats are pursuing the same dangerous and narrow minded strategy in multiple other states, including Illinois. This misguided strategy is amplifying the message of the far right and providing them with an electoral advantage as well as a platform to push their message of unrestricted capitalism, white supremacy, Christian nationalism, and pro-Trump conspiracy theories further into the mainstream.
The Democratic Party is not the solution the working class needs. They have consistently demonstrated that they are unable and unwilling to effectively oppose the constant and intensifying attacks on the basic rights of the working class. Worse, they are promoting the far right for their own opportunist ends. Working people of Pennsylvania deserve better than the Democratic Party.
The fight for democratic rights intensifies
Senate Bill 106 is designed to pave the way to outlawing abortion in Pennsylvania. So far, legislation restricting access to abortions in the state has been vetoed by current Governor Tom Wolf. If Senate Bill 106 passes, then the state Supreme Court (the majority of whose members oppose banning abortion) would not be able to protect abortion rights on constitutional grounds. Then, if Mastriano wins the gubernatorial election taking place this November, he would quickly coordinate with the Republican-controlled state legislature to pass a slate of anti-worker legislation including laws restricting and even completely ending abortion access in the state.
Many progressive residents of Pennsylvania believe abortion rights could never be taken away in their state. But it is important to understand that in the context of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe and a rising tide of far right religious nationalism, what was previously out of the question has become a very real possibility. The Democratic Party has proven again and again that they are not willing to do what it takes to fight back these sexist attacks on reproductive rights.
But the federal legalization of abortion in 1973 was not a gift from sympathetic politicians—it was the outcome of the masses of people rising up and taking to the streets to demand their rights. Recently, across Latin America, a “green wave” of women’s movements in countries like Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia has succeeded in making abortion a legally protected right. They succeeded not because they had friends in high places, but because they were able to unite millions of working class people in the struggle. The people of Pennsylvania should take note of their victories and remain in the streets and in the struggle until racist, sexist politicians like Doug Mastriano are defeated and abortion is fully legal across the country.