Oz, Fetterman spar on abortion in Pennsylvania debate

Pennsylvania Senate Candidates Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidates Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz (left) and Democrat John Fetterman. | Mark Makela/Getty Images

John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, refused to say Tuesday what if any abortion restrictions he would support, vowing instead to “fight to re-establish” Roe v. Wade to again legalize abortion across the country.

“That was the law of the land for 50 years,” Fetterman said during the race’s closely watched debate, held at the studio of WHTM, an ABC affiliate in Harrisburg. “That’s what I run on. That’s what I believe.”

In answer to another question on the abortion issue, Fetterman’s opponent, Mehmet Oz, who is running as a pro-life Republican, again said he would not vote in favor of a national 15-week abortion ban proposed by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“I am not going to support federal rules that block the ability of states to do what they wish to do. The abortion decision should be left up to states,” Oz said.

Abortion figured prominently in Tuesday’s debate, as it has throughout Pennsylvania’s tightly contested Senate race. The candidates’ latest comments come as a new EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research survey released Tuesday shows Oz has an edge over Fetterman among likely Catholic voters in Pennsylvania.

If the election were held right now, 50.7% of Catholic voters would cast their ballots for Oz, while 45.2% say they would support Fetterman, the survey showed. 

A similar margin in Fetterman’s favor is reflected in polls of the state’s general population. According to a new CNN poll conducted Oct. 13–17 and released Monday, 51% of likely voters support Fetterman, and 45% support Oz.

The EWTN poll distinguished between Republican and Democratic voters. Of Republican Catholic voters, 89.5% would back Oz, and 8.1% would back Fetterman. Among Democrats, 84.3% would back Fetterman while 11% would vote for Oz. 

Abortion, however, is not a top priority in the state right now, even for Catholic voters, the ETWN poll found. Only 9.9% of the state’s likely Catholic voters consider abortion to be the most important issue in this election. The majority — 60.6% — identify the most important issue facing the nation as “economy, jobs, inflation, rising interest rates.” 

Conducted by the Trafalgar Group Oct. 14–18 — just weeks ahead of the midterm election on Nov. 8 — the survey received 546 responses with a 4.1% margin of error and a 95% confidence level.

Sharp divide on abortion

As on a host of other issues, the two Pennsylvania Senate candidates stand far apart on the abortion issue.

“I want to look into the face of every woman in Pennsylvania. You know, if you believe that the choice of your reproductive freedom belongs with Dr. Oz, then you have a choice,” Fetterman said. “But if you believe that the choice for abortion belongs between you and your doctor, that's what I fight for.”

Fetterman went on to say that Oz “celebrated when Roe v. Wade went down and my campaign would fight for Roe v. Wade, and if given the opportunity, to codify it into law.”

Oz, in turn, quickly pounced on Fetterman’s response on abortion restrictions, pointing to the Democrat’s support of the radical pro-abortion Women’s Health Protection Act. Unlike Roe, which allowed some limited state regulations, the Democrat-backed proposed law would permit abortion up to the moment of birth while prohibiting any state restrictions.

“That’s radical, that’s extreme, that is out of touch with what the average voter in Pennsylvania believes is appropriate,” Oz said.

According to the EWTN poll, 19% of likely Catholic voters in Pennsylvania say abortion should be available to a woman at any time, while 10.6% say abortion should be allowed only during the first six months of pregnancy. 

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In favor of more protection for the unborn child, 18.1% say abortion should be allowed until 15 weeks when the baby can feel pain and 7.8% say that abortion should be allowed only until a heartbeat can be detected. 

A plurality (29%) say abortion should only be allowed in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, with 8.6% saying it should be allowed only to save the life of the mother. Only 6.9% agree with Church teaching that it should never be permitted.

While Fetterman has vowed to protect Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, and repeal the Hyde Amendment, which generally prohibits federal funding from going toward abortion, Oz’s position on abortion is more complicated.

The Republican calls himself “100% pro-life” on his campaign website, but supports abortion in cases of rape and incest and to save the life of the mother, Politico reports. At the same time, in a recording published by The Daily Beast, Oz said in May that he believed “life starts at conception.”

In the past, Oz has expressed support for abortion to remain legal. During a 2019 interview with The Breakfast Club, he admitted that while he does not want his family members to get an abortion, “I don’t want to interfere with everyone else’s stuff.”

Most recently, in an Oct. 14 interview with NBC, he said he opposed federal restrictions on abortion, including the proposed 15-week abortion ban, saying that the decision should be left up to the states, as now permitted under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe.

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