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Lehigh Valley Election News

PA-7 Primary: Republican candidates talk reproductive rights

PA 7 Republican candidates
Ryan Mackenzie, Maria Montero and Kevin Dellicker (pictured, left to right) are the Republican candidates running for the U.S. House Pennsylvania District 7.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The three Republican candidates seeking the party's nomination for Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District visited the Univest Public Public Media Center for one-on-one interviews with LehighValleyNews.com. The conversations are the basis of a five-part series this week focusing on policy issues ahead of the April 23 primary election. U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, who is unchallenged in the Democratic primary, declined to participate.

Today's issue: Reproductive rights (First of five parts)

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Two years after the Supreme Court's controversial decision to overturn Roe v. Wade set a tone in the 2022 midterm elections, the three Republican candidates for Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District are staking out different platforms on reproductive rights.

State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie and Maria Montero, a former member of Gov. Tom Corbett's administration, both said Congress should leave the issue of abortion to the state. Kevin Dellicker, an Air National Guard officer, said he supports a stricter ban than the 24 weeks previously protected by the courts.

Meanwhile, Mackenzie was the only candidate of the three to say he'd support protections for fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilizations.

On the issues: Kevin Dellicker on abortion

The background

In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, upending nearly 50 years of legal precedent. The decision cleared the way for states to set new standards to restrict abortion access.

In the nearly two years since, 14 states have banned or criminalized abortions while three others have banned abortions after six weeks of development — before many women know they're pregnant. Courts in Arizona, Florida and Wyoming are reviewing cases that could ban or severely restrict abortion as well.

Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District represents all of Carbon, Lehigh and Northampton counties plus a sliver of Monroe County. It is among the most competitive districts in the nation.

Currently, Pennsylvania allows abortions until 24 weeks, the standard in place before the Supreme Court's ruling.

But the high court's ruling does nothing to prevent Congress from enacting its own national standard. U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-Lehigh Valley, voted for the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022, which would have guaranteed access to abortions nationally; it passed the House but did not advance in the Senate.

Similarly, lawmakers such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced legislation that would ban abortions nationally after 15 weeks, though his proposal went nowhere.

Without national legislation, further restrictions may be in play through court rulings. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in a case challenging decisions by the FDA to expand access to abortion pills. A majority of abortions in America are now performed through abortion pills. A ruling is expected this summer.

Kicking the question of abortion rights from the federal level to the states has had some unexpected side effects. An Alabama couple sued a fertility clinic after a non-employee managed to gain access to the clinic's freezer and destroyed frozen embryos used for in vitro fertilization, or IVF.

Alabama's Supreme Court determined the embryos were children under state law, which entitled them to certain protections. Many clinics across the state halted IVF treatments as a result until lawmakers passed legislation granting fertility clinics immunity to perform their standard treatments.

While Wild did not participate in interviews, she has previously gone on record saying the government should not be involved in setting limits on abortion. The matter should be left to a woman and her doctor, she said. Weeks before the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, she introduced federal legislation that would guarantee access to assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF.

On the Issues: Maria Montero on abortion

What the candidates have to say

Dellicker was the only one who supported national legislation, saying abortion should be banned once the fetus is viable and able to feel pain.

He also supported maintaining the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal tax dollars from directly paying for abortions. There should also be legislation prohibiting minors from getting abortions without parental consent, he said.

"I think an unborn child is a living human being worthy of protection," he said.

Dellicker said he would be willing to consider a 16-week abortion ban supported by former President Donald Trump. However, he noted a fetus would not be able to survive outside the womb that early.

"I'd be willing to see what the science says and what the consensus would be to try to get a bill through Congress," Dellicker said.

While they provided different reasons for their stances, Mackenzie and Montero both disagreed. Abortion matters should be left to the states, they said.

Montero, an attorney, supported the Supreme Court's decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson case that overturned Roe v. Wade. The Constitution doesn't give Congress any authority to regulate health care or abortion, which means it's a matter for states to decide, she said.

"At a federal level, I do not think that we as legislators should be involved in dictating abortions, period," said Montero.

When she became a teenage mother, Montero benefitted from the support of her family, she said. Other community groups offer critical assistance, she said, such as Cay Galgon Life House, a Bethlehem nonprofit agency that helps marginalized mothers. But the federal government has a role in supporting women in unplanned pregnancies, too, she said. That includes supporting health networks and hospitals to provide quality prenatal care.

"I had real options when I was 18, and I want that for other women, also," she said.

Mackenzie, meanwhile, cited practicality. With Congress so divided, it would be near impossible to pass legislation on a topic that's proven to be incredibly divisive within American society.

On the Issues: Ryan Mackenzie on abortion

"We should not be doing a federal ban, which has been talked about by some candidates, not only in this race, but nationally," he said.

States, he said, have more room to get things done. As proof, Mackenzie cited 2018 legislation he crafted that studied rising maternal mortality rates in Pennsylvania; the bill passed with bipartisan support.

Pennsylvania, he said, ought to be doing more to provide mothers with more choices. He criticized Gov. Josh Shapiro for ending a decades-old state contract with Real Alternatives, an anti-abortion group that provides counseling, mentoring and other information about adoption.

As for supporting IVF, Mackenzie was the only candidate to voice support for federal legislation. Mackenzie, who's first child is due before the primary, said it's important to provide avenues for Americans to grow their family.

"I know that that's something that we're very grateful for, but a lot of other families don't have that opportunity," he said. "We want to make sure that's available to them."

For the same reasons Montero opposed a ban on abortions at the federal level, she opposed legislation guaranteeing access to IVF.

The Constitution doesn't delegate that authority to Congress, so it should be a matter for states to decide, she said. Senators and members of the House should be more focused on securing the border, investing in infrastructure and developing an energy strategy, she said.

"That's the way our Constitution is meant and designed to work," she said.

Dellicker criticized Wild's bill as flawed. The bill, he said, would make "IVF a right whether you could afford it or not."

It was another example of Democrats trying to score political points on their Republican opponents over reproductive rights, he said. IVF is simply the next chapter in a prolonged partisan fight, he said.

"We can talk about limits on abortions, and we can talk about protecting unborn children without having to try to, you know, pin people down in IVF," Dellicker said.

Wild's bill, among other changes, would make it a requirement for insurance companies to provide coverage for assisted reproductive technology. The terms of of the specific plan would determine how much the cost of the procedure would be picked up by the insurer.

TOMORROW: The candidates on foreign affairs

Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District represents all of Carbon, Lehigh and Northampton counties plus a sliver of Monroe County. It is among the most competitive districts in the nation, with near equal numbers of registered Democratic and Republican voters. The House has been narrowly divided in recent years, making control of PA-7 crucial to the parties' efforts to hold a majority.