Pennsylvania Senate candidates John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz sparred over questions on abortion rights and access during the pair’s first and only debate Tuesday ahead of the Nov. 8 midterms.
Republican doctor Oz argued that the federal government should not be involved in individual states’ decisions on abortion.
“I don’t want the federal government involved with that at all,” Oz said on the debate stage. “I want women, doctors, local political leaders, letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.”
According to audio from May recently obtained by NBC News, Oz called abortion “murder” regardless of “whether their heart’s beating or not.” In response to the audio clip, his campaign said Oz “is pro-life and supports exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.”
Fetterman, a Democrat and the state’s current lieutenant governor, pledged his support for the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which was overturned by the Supreme Court in June.
“Roe v. Wade, for me, should be the law,” Fetterman said. “He 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.”
Abortion has been a hot issue in the Pennsylvania race, as the two vie to fill retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat. The state allows abortion up until the 23rd week of pregnancy and polling suggests the majority of Pennsylvania residents have long supported abortion rights. However, since the Supreme Court’s decision in June, support for abortion rights has jumped.
According to an August poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall College, 89% of Pennsylvania voters believe abortion should be legal under certain circumstances and nearly 60% oppose amending the state constitution to say there is no constitutional right to abortion. A recent Fox News poll found abortion to rank among Pennsylvania voters’ top three issues, and a separate poll from September found that 20% of voters in the state will primarily base their vote on candidates’ abortion stances.
The debate moderators pressed the two candidates to elaborate on their abortion views, asking Fetterman if he would support any limitations and if Oz would support legislation from Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, which would ban abortions after 15 weeks.
“I support Roe v. Wade. That was the law of the land for 50 years he celebrated when it fell down and I would fight to reestablish on Roe v. Wade,” Fetterman said. He also noted that he would support federal funding for women to travel out of state to obtain an abortion if the procedure was banned in their home state.
Oz appeared to indicate he would oppose Graham’s bill, though he did not offer a firm yes or no response.
“I am not going to support federal rules that block the ability of states to do what they wish to do,” Oz said of the bill. “The abortion decision should be left up to states.”
Oz added that he has “been very clear on my desire as a physician not to interfere with how states decide” and that Fetterman is “purposely trying to alarm” women in the state and is “fear mongering.” He also argued during the debate that Fetterman would support abortion up until 38 weeks — a claim which Fetterman disputed as untrue.
Asked for the second time by the moderator about his view of Graham’s bill, Oz replied that he would vote against “any bill that violates what I said, which is the federal government interfering with the state rule on abortion.”
“So yes or no on the Lindsey Graham bill?” the moderator pressed moments later.
“I think I’ve answered it very clearly three times,” Oz replied.