By Susan K. Livio
Doctors would no longer be the only medical professionals permitted to terminate pregnancies in New Jersey under rules proposed Monday that are intended to repeal medically unnecessary and “outdated” regulations that have limited women’s access to abortions.
Gov. Phil Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced the state Board of Medical Examiners, which licenses physicians and regulates the practice of medicine, voted to repeal rules that have limited who performs abortions and where they are done.
Under current rules, only doctors can perform abortions. And if they occur after 14 weeks, they must be performed in a hospital, or an ambulatory surgery center “that has in place a credentialing process to evaluate the physician’s training and experience,” according to the text of the regulations.
If the new rules are approved, the state would allow advance practice nurses, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives and certified midwives to perform surgical or suction abortions. These procedures, also known as an aspiration abortion, are the most commonly used technique to end a pregnancy in the first trimester.
The new rules also would define “early aspiration abortion” as a “minor procedure,” that does not involve the use of anesthesia services, and can be done in a medical office.
A committee of the state medical board began examining the issue in 2018, according to a summary of the proposed new rules. Among its research, it found the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Committee on Reproductive Health Services that year had studied the medical literature and concluded most abortions are performed within the first 13 weeks and complications were very rare.
Repealing these old rules would lift “barriers to abortion care that are unrelated to safety” and “ensure abortions are regulated like other office-based surgical and special procedures,” according to the draft proposal.
“The Board of Medical Examiners’ evaluation of the medical evidence will modernize New Jersey’s outdated regulations and barriers to reproductive health care in New Jersey,” Murphy said in a statement. “I thank the Board of Medical Examiners for their thoughtful and deliberative examination of the rules and work to repeal antiquated regulations and expand access to reproductive care for all New Jerseyans.”
Murphy and members of the state Legislature have signaled their intent to protect abortion rights in New Jersey since President Trump nominated and the U.S. Senate approved Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative-leaning jurist to the U.S. Supreme Court in October.
With a conservative majority now on the court and a number of abortion rights cases pending, it’s possible the nation’s highest court could overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court decision giving a woman’s right to abortion. If so, abortion rights would become an issue decided by each state.
Weeks after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died and before Barrett was confirmed, Murphy and state lawmakers announced they would pass the Reproductive Freedom Act, a bill that would enshrine the right to abortion and other reproductive health care for women in New Jersey.
Kaitlyn Wojtowicz from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey praised the medical board’s actions.
“In New Jersey, everyone should be able to receive the care they need and plan their families without barriers, fear, or interference from others. Today’s publication of a proposed new rule by the New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners will continue to move our state in this direction,” Wojtowicz said.
Wojtowicz said with the passage of the new rules and the bill, “these parallel processes will help ensure that access to reproductive health care in New Jersey does not depend on your income, your zip code, your immigration, or your insurance status.”
The rule-making process requires the state to advertise a 60-day comment period, during which opponents and supporters could submit written statements.
Marie Tasy, executive director for New Jersey Right to Life, said she would be submitting a comment to challenge the board’s “false assertions, which are based on biased studies.”
“The NJ Board of Medical Examiners has clearly forfeited their credibility as an independent agency whose paramount responsibility is to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare,” Tasy said. “The rules certainly don’t protect women, but instead protect those who shamefully seek to make a profit from the bodies of women and the death of innocent children.”
The comment period expires March 5. Comments may be sent to William V. Roeder, Executive Director, State Board of Medical Examiners, PO Box 183, Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0183. They may also be sent electronically at: http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/Proposals/Pages/default.aspx
In 2017, 48,110 abortions were performed in New Jersey and 862,320 nationally, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that promotes reproductive rights across the globe.