Come election day on November 7th, Pennsylvania will elect a State Supreme Court Justice to a ten-year term. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is currently split 4-2, with liberals holding a majority. While this election does not have the potential to flip the majority on the court, the race has garnered significant media attention, endorsements, and money from national organizations concerned with the issues at stake. The election has boiled down to a debate about abortion, an issue significant to the 2022 midterm and following special elections.
Judge Carolyn Carluccio is running in the Republican Party and has faced criticism for her hardline abortion stance. A former federal prosecutor, Carluccio currently serves on the Montgomery Country Court of Common Pleas. She has garnered endorsements from anti-abortion organizations such as the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation and the Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation advocates for giving fetuses legal protection under the law, making abortion murder, and banning abortion in all circumstances — even incest and rape. Under such legislation, women would be prosecuted for making the decision to have an abortion.
The Carluccio family’s organization, the Little Tower Foundation, donated at least $10,000 to a crisis pregnancy center in Jacksonville, Penn. These organizations try to stop women with unplanned pregnancies from having abortions. They often use deception and shaming techniques to achieve their goals. These centers will use a veil of neutrality and compassion when first approached by pregnant people before turning to an explicit anti-abortion campaign. Some of these centers even present themselves as abortion clinics before pushing women against having an abortion. Despite being legal, these organizations have been called “unethical” by the American Medical Association.
Judge Carluccio’s legal philosophy follows that of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. This philosophy of originalism advocates interpreting the constitution according to what the founding fathers would intend. Proponents of this philosophy use it to overturn the right to access to reproductive healthcare like abortions and contraception. Such a philosophy led to the Supreme Court’s overturning of the federal right to an abortion.
During her primary in the Republican Party, Carluccio wrote on her website that she would “protect all life under the law” which she subsequently deleted when she became a general election candidate. This undermines Carluccio’s statement that she will “uphold the law.” While this would imply that she would not touch abortion access in Pennsylvania, these vague statements are often used by conservative judges before they rule in favor of anti-abortion measures.
As abortion restrictions are possible in any state with a significant enough Republican majority, state Supreme Court races have become a larger focus for national organizations and political committees. The race has garnered interest among political organizations and donors. As of October 31st, $17 million has been spent on the race. More than $5 million of that money has come from two Republican donors on behalf of Carluccio. Her opponent, Judge Dainel McCaffery, has raised more and has the endorsements of trial lawyers and labor unions.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Decision in Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization, elections have increasingly focused on the issue of abortion. In the case, the Supreme Court rejected the decision in Roe vs Wade and allowed states to restrict the right to have an abortion. The decision proved to be an issue in the 2022 midterms when the Republican Party failed to secure its projected majority in the House of Representatives and lost a Senate seat held by Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey.
As a result of the heightened role of state Supreme Courts and Legislatures in determining abortion access in the U.S., local races have focused more on the issue. Despite trying to move away from her previous anti-abortion statements, Carluccio has been the target of pro-choice groups that operate on the national scale, such as Planned Parenthood. Furthermore, civil rights groups like the ACLU have spent money to inform voters of Carluccio’s stance on abortion rights.
In Pennsylvania, abortion is banned after 24 weeks. This is unlikely to change so long as Democrats control the Governorship, the State House, and the Supreme Court. Yet, if control were to fall into the hands of the Republicans (which is entirely possible), the possibility of a 15-week or 6-week abortion ban becomes plausible. This has already happened in states across the U.S. with Republican legislatures. If Carluccio were to win, Republican control of the Supreme Court would be within grasp. Next year, three supreme court judges are up for re-election, and as a result, so is control of the state Supreme Court. The fight on abortion rights has been ongoing for more than 50 years now — demonstrating that the final verdict may come down to who can fight the longest.
To see a sample ballot for Lancaster’s election (presented by our very own Editor-in Chief, Sarah Nicell), click here!
In response, the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation provided this comment on Nov. 7: “The Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation opposes prosecuting women who seek abortions. We support legislation, such as the long-standing Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funding of abortion except in the rare cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, and has resulted in saving an estimated two million American lives.”
Senior Olivia Deelen is a Staff Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.