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Chester County Press

Houlahan holds town hall amid glare of Supreme Court ruling

06/28/2022 02:58PM ● By Richard Gaw

Photo by Richard L. Gaw            U.S. Representative Chrissy Houlahan held a town hall meeting on June 27 at the Avon Grove Library Community Room.


By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

From the time she was first elected as the U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s 6th District in 2018, Chrissy Houlahan has traveled extensively throughout Chester and Berks counties in an effort to hear the voices of her constituents and keep them informed about changing laws and new initiatives.

In her four years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Houlahan has conducted 61 town hall meetings, but at her 62nd, held June 27 at the Avon Grove Library Community Room, she addressed what may be the largest elephant in the room she has ever encountered at any of her previous meetings.

In a 6-3 decision on June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion in the U.S. in 1973. The court’s controversial but expected ruling now gives individual states the power to set their own abortion laws without concern of violating the statutes of Roe v. Wade, which had permitted abortions during the first two trimesters of pregnancy.

As a ripple effect of the decision, almost half of the nation’s states are expected to outlaw or severely restrict access to abortion, which will affect millions of women who will be forced to cross states lines in order to obtain reproductive care.

After providing updates on topics as diverse as the impact of inflation on the U.S. economy, small businesses, health care, infrastructure, community funding projects, security of election officials, veteran’s rights, Ukraine, national security and the recent bipartisan effort to pass gun violence prevention, Houlahan said that she heard of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the same day that the Senate signed off on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act gun safety bill.

“I am strongly Pro-Choice, and I am certain that there are folks here in this audience who don’t necessarily share my position,” she said. “I very much respect the position that everyone has, but something I think we can all understand and agree on is that now, it comes back to the people. It comes back to the people, whether it is on the federal level or the state level.

“We are empowered in a way that we haven’t been before in the last 50 years on this issue. My husband told me, ‘I did not realize that this is not the end of everything. It is the beginning.’ The court does not make the laws. The people you elect make the laws.”

Other stakeholders weigh in on ruling

Houlahan’s comments on Roe v. Wade overlapped with the opinions of many who attended the town hall. During informal conversations prior to the start of the event, several attendees expressed their displeasure with the Court’s ruling, saying that overturning Roe v. Wade set women’s rights back several decades, and that it may set a precedent for the eventual overturning of gay rights and contraception rights.

Their opinions seemed to echo public opinion on the verdict. According to a CBS/YouGov poll, 59 percent of those polled disapprove of the court’s ruling, as opposed to 41 percent who approve.

In the wake of the ruling, state and local officials offered their opinions strictly along partisan lines. In his response, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf assured state residents that despite the overturning of Roe v. Wade, “it is critical that everyone understands that abortion services are available and unharmed in Pennsylvania,” he said. “Providers may still provide reproductive health care services and patients should continue the health care plan they've developed with their physicians.”

Wolf then assailed what he referred to as “right-wing extremists” who have spent the last several years “strategically planning to dismantle decades-long decisions to further their agendas and divide our country with policies designed to infringe upon our freedoms.”

Wolf called for state and federal governments to step up their efforts to protect the rights of women and pregnant people throughout the country, especially in states that do not have a governor willing to veto anti-abortion legislation.

“Today’s decision upends almost a half century of legal precedent and rips away a constitutional right that generations of women have known their entire lives,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D). “This dangerous ruling won’t end abortions in this country, but it will put women’s lives at risk. And make no mistake -- this is not the end goal, it’s just the beginning. Republicans in Congress want to pass federal legislation to completely ban abortion. Our daughters and granddaughters should not grow up with fewer rights than their mothers.”

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R) called the Court’s decision “a win for the unborn, the Constitution and democratic governance.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization restores the American people’s ability to determine abortion laws through their elected representatives, as the Constitution requires,” Toomey said. “Precedents that are wrongly decided should be overturned, just as Brown v. Board of Education was right to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson.”

While he applauded the Supreme Court’s decision, Dr. Gordon Eck, the chairman of the Republican Committee of Chester County, called for the support of county-wide agencies like Connect Care (formerly Chester County Women’s Services), who advocate on behalf of expectant mothers and their families.

‘An unvirtuous circle’

In a statement that appears on its website, the Chester County Democratic Committee wrote that it will continue to strongly oppose restrictions on “women’s body and reproductive autonomy” and called for the codification of Roe v. Wade.

As defined, “codification of law” is the systematic process and reduction of the whole body of law into a code in the form of enacted law, and the removal of repealed or obsolete ordinances.

During the question-and-answer portion of the town hall meeting, Houlahan said that every state has the ability to codify Roe v. Wade, including Pennsylvania.

“In Pennsylvania, if there is any legislation either for Roe or against Roe, the governor can exercise a veto and say that he can reject this legislation if he doesn’t agree with it,” she said. “The other issue is that if the state legislature is able to put forward a constitutional amendment to the state’s constitution to codify Roe or make it illegal, the governor doesn’t have any ability to veto that.”

At the federal level, Houlahan said that while the U.S. House of Representatives has already passed legislation that would codify the law, it has not been passed on to the Senate.

On the federal side, we need 60 votes in the Senate [to pass the legislation], and we will not get 60 votes on the Senate side,” she said. “We need to continue during the next election cycle to have a majority of Democrats – or those who are supportive of Roe – on the Senate side.”

Houlahan called for those in the audience who are on both sides of Roe v. Wade to maintain their argument, but also offer support for universal Pre-K, access to nutritional food for families and the improvement of access to childcare.

“There are a lot of other things that we need to be building on, if we are going to have more kids in our world, and in my opinion, we are doing a terrible job of that,” she said. “If you go a few miles from here, I got the chance to visit a childcare center who works with the families of those who work on our mushroom farms. They were short-handed several people, and as a consequence, they have 31 open slots for children.

“That means that 31 children are not getting that early childhood development, and 31 children’s parents are not able to work at their jobs. That is an unvirtuous circle.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].