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Abortion rights are under attack. Don’t shelve the Reproductive Freedom Act during ‘lame duck.’

By Sheila Reynertson

Originally published to on November 23, 2021

With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to erode Americans’ rights by overturning or severely weakening the constitutional guarantee of abortion care, New Jersey lawmakers can send the opposite message to residents of this state.

The New Jersey Legislature has before it a measure to codify our fundamental right to abortion and remove financial barriers to this time-sensitive care. While some other states race to turn back the clock and push abortion out of reach, there is strong support among New Jersey voters to protect and expand access to abortion care.

The Reproductive Freedom Act (RFA) squares with other strides New Jersey has made in the past four years to support, defend, and expand access to health care. But time is running out. If the RFA doesn’t pass by the end of this legislative session in January, the bill dies and the process would have to start again.

Besides declaring the fundamental right to reproductive healthcare, the RFA would:

  • Remove outdated regulations and repeal some unconstitutional laws and others that could inadvertently criminalize abortion in some cases.

  • Require that insurance covers birth control without copays and allows filling prescriptions for oral contraception for a full year at a time.

  • Require private insurance to cover abortion with no out-of-pocket costs.

  • Expand a safety net maternity care program to cover birth control and pregnancy-related care, including abortion, so that the lack of health insurance isn’t a barrier.

These measures would enable everyone — regardless of income, ZIP code, insurance coverage, or immigration status — to make personal health care decisions with dignity.

Some legislators talk of amending the RFA to allow cost barriers to remain. That’s inequitable. People with financial resources wouldn’t be affected, but those who struggle to make ends meet — young adults, people in low-paying jobs, Black and brown families, immigrants without a path to health insurance, and those who live in rural areas — would be left behind. This version of the RFA would mainly harm communities already underserved due to a legacy of historical racism and ongoing forms of discrimination and bias.

Being denied an abortion has devastating consequences on the economic trajectory of a person’s life. A groundbreaking, 10-year study shows them to be more likely to live in poverty, raise children alone without family or partners, and lack the money to afford such basics as food, housing, and transportation. The financial well-being and development of their children is harmed, too. Those denied an abortion have lower credit, higher debt, and a greater likelihood of bankruptcy and eviction. Another recent study found that facing eviction during pregnancy leads to adverse birth outcomes, which can have lifelong and even generational consequences.

For all these reasons, the RFA should be neither shelved nor changed. Equitable access to contraception and abortion services doesn’t just benefit the well-being of people directly affected. Removing barriers improves our collective well-being as a state. When people can control their own destiny and pursue opportunities that boost their economic security, New Jersey is a healthier place where all communities can thrive.

Sheila Reynertson is a senior policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), a nonpartisan think tank.

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