By Susan K. Livio
Originally published to NJ.com on January 10, 2022
Both houses of the state Legislature voted Monday to preserve the right of women and girls to obtain an abortion in New Jersey, a measure that grew out of concern the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court may overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision later this year.
The bill enshrines a woman’s right to abortion, which is already protected under a 1982 state Supreme Court decision. The legislation (S49) also authorizes Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration to require state-regulated insurance carriers to cover the procedures’ costs. The state Department of Banking and Insurance would first have to study whether an insurance mandate is necessary.
“If the department adopts a regulation establishing this coverage requirement, the department will also be required to mandate that carriers grant, upon request of a religious employer, an exclusion under the contract for the required coverage if the coverage conflicts with the religious employer’s bona fide religious beliefs and practices,” according to the bill.
The measure now goes to Murphy, who said in a tweet Monday afternoon that he intends to sign it.
“I will sign this bill into law this week,” the Democratic governor wrote. “With Roe v. Wade under attack, the need for this bill is more urgent than ever.”
Republicans urged the Democrats in the state Senate to delay acting on the bill because they said it was rushed through committee review at 6 p.m. Thursday night. Some Republicans also pleaded to take into consideration the death of innocent babies, in a state with the highest per capita abortion rate. There were about 48,000 abortions in 2017, the most recent data available.
“What is your authority, some guy in a black robe?” Sen. Michael Doherty said. “I fear God…He is the ultimate authority.”
Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, one of the bill’s sponsors, called the legislation “a landmark, simple and crucial piece of legislation” that “provides every New Jerseyan a clear affirmation for reproductive health care.”
State Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris, asked to amend the bill to include “reasonable restrictions” on abortion, but the Democrats defeated the action. Assemblywoman Aura Dunn R-Morris requested an amendment that would require minors to notify kin — parents or grandparents — they are seeking an abortion, but that was also defeated.
The Senate voted 23-15 to pass the bill with Sen. Fred Madden, D-Gloucester, the only Senate Democrat to vote against the bill. Sen.
The Assembly voted 46-22 with eight abstentions to approve the bill.
As numerous Assembly Republicans spoke at length about the need to “choose life” over abortion, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, D-Essex, one of the prime sponsors, said with exasperation: “I encourage my colleagues to move into 2022 and give us the right to determine when and whether we wish to reproduce, Ok? That’s it.”
An angry Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, D-Hudson, told all the men speaking out against a woman’s right to decide their own futures to stand down. “Until you have a vagina, you have nothing to say,” she said.
Loretta Weinberg, the Bergen County Democrat who resigned from her Senate seat Friday but who was the prime sponsor with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said the need for the bill is “critical.”
“With a woman’s right to choose under Roe v. Wade under attack in the U.S. Supreme Court, it is critical that we enact legislation rooted in the New Jersey Constitution that clearly and unequivocally protects freedom of reproductive choice, including the right to access contraception, the right to terminate a pregnancy, and the right to carry a pregnancy to term,” Weinberg said in a statement after the vote.
The legislation replaces the Reproductive Freedom Act, a more far-reaching bill that would have paid for the procedure for the first time for undocumented, low-income women through the state Medicaid program, and require state-regulated insurance companies to cover the expense. The bill was never posted a vote after Democrats said it would be too costly. Some also said they felt uncomfortable voting yes because it seemed to make getting an abortion “too easy.”
The Assembly also approved a related bill (S413) that would require authorization and coverage of 12 months of contraceptive coverage. The bill, which previously passed the Senate, awaits Murphy’s signature.
Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, vice president for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, called both bills a “strong declaration of reproductive rights.”
“When the Governor signs both of these bills into law, many New Jerseyans will have increased access to birth control and a state law protecting their right to access abortion and birth control,” she said. “We celebrate this, but the work is far from done.