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A push to put reproductive rights into NJ law before Supreme Court rules on Roe

By Michelle Brunetti Post

Originally published to Press of Atlantic City on May 21, 2021

Women’s reproductive rights — particularly the right to a medically provided abortion — have been protected in New Jersey for 48 years by the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1973.

But those rights were never codified in state law, said Gov. Phil Murphy and a group of women leaders who held an online presentation to increase support for the proposed New Jersey Reproductive Freedom Act.

It’s time to give New Jerseyans statutory rights, Murphy said, especially since the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case that could threaten the Roe v. Wade precedent. “Folks, let’s stay at this. Let’s get this on the rails sooner rather than later,” Murphy said. “This is not abstract anymore. This is a real and present danger.”

The legislation (A4848/S3030) would guarantee state residents the right to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization, and to choose whether to continue a pregnancy or have an abortion. It was introduced in October but has not been moved in the Legislature. Not everyone supports it.

State Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said Thursday if passed into law it would establish “an E-ZPass lane for abortions, making the procedure so accessible that many young moms-to-be may commit to ending the fetus’ life without thoroughly considering the long-term effects — including the emotional baggage she may be burdened with for years to come.”

Testa also objected to the bill exempting abortion from insurance co-pays for reproductive health care. The U.S. Supreme Court recently announced it will hear a case regarding a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Roe established a nationwide right to abortion at any point before a fetus can survive outside the womb, roughly 24 weeks.

With the death of left-leaning U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and President Donald Trump’s appointment of conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, many abortion rights workers fear the end could be near for Roe. States are continuing to pass restrictive laws. On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed a law that bans abortions in the state after six weeks. That’s before many women even know they are pregnant, and leaves enforcement to private citizens, who can sue doctors or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion. Rahbbea Norton-Lee, associate medical director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey and Planned Parenthood of Northern, Central and Southern New Jersey, said it’s time to remove obstacles that lower-income women have to accessing reproductive health care. Murphy said the Reproductive Freedom Act would eliminate out-of-pocket expenses for reproductive health care, expand the scope of practice for advanced nurse practitioners to be able to provide abortions and require insurance companies to provide 12 months of birth control so women don’t have to make repeated visits to providers to continue using it.

Norton-Lee said it is difficult for some of her patients to arrange child care or take time off work to make repeated medical appointments, and state law currently only allows doctors to provide some abortions. “I am a nurse practitioner capable of being trained to provide care as other states allow,” she said. “It would reduce provider shortages. ... Rights without access are meaningless.” Murphy, a Democrat, is running for reelection this year, and his likely Republican opponent, former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, said in a statement Tuesday he opposes the Reproductive Freedom Act.

“The debate over Roe v. Wade is one that evokes passion on both sides whereby reasonable people can disagree,” Ciattarelli said, “but a law that would allow the abortion of full-term babies, outlaw parental notification for minors and authorize non-licensed physicians to perform abortions is radical by any measure.” Ciattarelli has said Democratic leaders are reluctant to bring up such a divisive issue in an election year in which all members of the Assembly and Senate are on the ballot. Alexis McGill Johnson, of Morristown, Morris County, is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood of America. She said she is the same age as Roe — 48 — so has always lived under its protections.

“Right now, we need the state Legislature to continue (its) legacy by passing by end of budget season,” Johnson said. “We know the courts won’t save us. The fight for reproductive freedom can only be won in the states.” Senate sponsor Loretta Weinberg, who is retiring at the end of the year, said she is a lot older than Roe and remembers the days before abortion was illegal.

“As I have said many times, women have always been pro choice. The only difference is, do they have safe options?” Weinberg said.

“I’ve been in this fight so long, every time I think we can relax and we’ve taken care of things like this ... this comes to rear its head,” Weinberg said of the potential threat to Roe. “I would really like to hang up my spikes and cross this off my list as something I have to continuously worry about.”

“This is not about two opposing sides,” said first lady Tammy Murphy. “It’s about trust and dignity ... privilege and power. Do we trust women to make the right decisions about themselves and their families? “We trust women.”

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