‘Women are the reason we can win,’ John Fetterman says at packed abortion-rights rally in Montco
For Democrats like Fetterman running in tight races just months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion could be a difference-maker.
John Fetterman looked out at a gymnasium packed with people wearing bright pink “Fetterwoman” T-shirts and predicted that women would be the difference-maker in his closely watched Senate race.
“Women are the reason we can win,” Fetterman said in Blue Bell. “Lemme say that again: Women are the reason we win. Don’t p— women off.”
The crowd of about 2,700 at Montgomery County Community College screamed and stomped their feet.
For Democrats like Fetterman running in tight races just months after the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, the issue could be a difference-maker, particularly in motivating voters in areas like the Philadelphia suburbs, where Democratic turnout has swelled in recent years and support for abortion access is high.
“I feel so motivated and, honestly, angry,” said Tracey Gale, 53, of Philadelphia at the rally. “I had rights over my body my whole life, and I don’t want to live under a Christian Taliban.”
State Rep. Joanna McClinton, the House Democratic leader, said Fetterman’s election “will ensure we get to decide what happens with each and every one of our futures.”
And Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, led the crowd in a “We won’t go back! We won’t back down!” chant, saying electing Republican Mehmet Oz “would cost women their lives.”
The political climate is still precarious for Democrats, and most national political forecasters see it as more favorable to Republicans. But the Supreme Court ruling threw a curveball into the midterms. Pennsylvania is a state where who becomes governor could determine if abortion law changes in the state. Its Senate election could determine control of the chamber and whether Congress passes federal abortion protections.
“This decision is between a woman and a real doctor,” Fetterman said of abortion. “Oz believes abortion is murder. If every abortion is murder, that means Oz thinks every woman who had to choose an abortion is a killer. Think about that.”
Fetterman, who is dealing with auditory processing issues after his May 13 stroke, spoke for about 10 minutes. He stumbled over very few words compared with previous speeches. He did not take any questions from the media.
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, there have been signs of momentum for the Democratic Party, particularly among women, a majority of them young.
Women have far outpaced men in new registrations in Pennsylvania, with 62% registering as Democratsand 15% as Republicans; 54% were younger than 25.
In Kansas, a state that former President Donald Trump won by double digits, voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot initiative clarifying that the state constitution does not protect abortion.
Polling shows a shift among Democrats and independents toward unfettered abortion rights, which could motivate them to oppose Republican candidates who have taken increasingly hard-line stances against abortion.
A recent Franklin and Marshall poll showed an increase in interest in the election since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision among Democrats.
“Democrats are more interested in voting and more interested in this election than they were in May,” Franklin and Marshall pollster Berwood Yost said. “I think that’s because of Dobbs, and that certainly gives them a much better chance than they had a few months ago.”
Yost said in Philadelphia and Southeastern Pennsylvania, 40% of voters think abortion should be legal in any circumstances.
“There isn’t any part of the state that is more so called pro-choice than the Southeast,” he said.
Fetterman’s visit marked his first rally in the Southeast during the general election.
Oz has made several visits to the suburbs, including Saturday in Bucks County and last week in Delaware County, hoping to cut into some of those gains. He did not mention abortion at either event.
Where Fetterman and Oz stand on abortion
Oz has said he supports a ban on abortion with three exceptions: rape, incest, and if the life of the pregnant person is at risk.
He called abortion “murder” during a campaign event in May, according to an audio recording revealed earlier this month.
Despite the comment, harsher language than he’s typically used on the campaign trail, Oz said he does not support criminal penalties for women or doctors involved in illegal abortions.
Fetterman said during a primary debate that he does not believe in politicians putting any restrictions on abortion.
In June his campaign said Fetterman specifically supports the Women’s Health Protection Act, which passed the U.S. House but doesn’t have the votes to pass in the Senate. The act would protect abortion rights up to the point of fetal viability, which is typically around 24 weeks.
Is abortion enough of a motivator?
Republicans have acknowledged momentum in the suburbs is concerning but on the whole predict limits to how motivating a single issue will be.
Yost, of Franklin and Marshall, noted that while there’s been a marked shift in support toward some abortion access, people vote on myriad issues with the economy at the top.
Mallory Carroll, of the Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion organization, said “Democrats see [abortion] as a golden goose,” but she thinks antiabortion voters are also motivated given that the power to regulate abortion rights now goes to every state.
She also thinks her group can reach voters in the middle who favor some restrictions.
“In the primary, Fetterman said he does not support any limits on abortion. … That is an extreme position that a vast majority of voters do not support,” Montgomery County GOP Chair Liz Preate Havey said.
Democrats have meanwhile tried to make the battle for reproductive rights about more than abortion.
At the rally Sunday, U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon said voters are facing “government-mandated pregnancy ... children being forced to bear children, and restrictions on women’s freedom to travel to obtain health care.”
The crowd was energized. Attendees carried “choice” banners and “Republican women, join us” signs, and as they waited in line on the gray, rainy afternoon, some shared highly personal stories.
Dayna Garber, 38, said the current political environment and threats to abortion scare her.
“I don’t understand why the Republican Party cares so much about my body,” she said.
Garber’s friend became pregnant after being raped and Garber said she couldn’t imagine a situation where a rape victim might have to carry a child to term.
“I know it’s not that baby’s fault, but she had no love for that child. Is that fair either?” she said.
The Fetterman rally was the first political rally Deena Ginsberg, of Yardley, attended — even if it meant missing the Eagles opener.
“This is an urgent election. There is too much on the line,” she said.
Vince Tulio, a contractor from Montgomery Township and a Republican, attended the rally with his wife, who is a Democrat. Tulio voted for Trump twice but supports Fetterman in the Senate race.
Tulio doesn’t think Oz understands Pennsylvanians, having spent so much time in New Jersey. Abortion only factored into his decision in that he doesn’t think men should be decision-makers on abortion at all.
“With the plumbing I have, I don’t think it’s my place to tell a woman what she can and can’t do with her body.”