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Democrats push for vote on stalled NJ abortion-rights legislation

By Michael Symons

Originally published to NJ 101.5 on February 10, 2021

TRENTON — Backers of a bill that would solidify and expand abortion rights in New Jersey are demanding that the proposal gets heard in the Legislature this month, more than four months after it was unveiled.

Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, said it has been 131 days since the "Reproductive Freedom Act" was proposed but it hasn’t yet gotten a hearing, despite the endorsement of Gov. Phil Murphy.

It has 22 sponsors and co-sponsors in the Assembly and six in the Senate, all of them Democrats, and Wojtowicz said she hasn’t heard a policy reason for the holdup.

“We know that there’s real appetite for this legislation,” Wojtowicz said. “Unfortunately, we also know that New Jersey has not taken a substantial vote on anything related to abortion access for many, many years, and that stigma can contribute to some politicians being afraid to vote on this issue.”

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said medically unnecessary regulations remain in place in New Jersey that limit “when, where and how an abortion can be performed.”

“There is this feeling: Well, we’ve protected abortion rights in New Jersey, so we don’t have to address this,” Weinberg said. "I think some of our colleagues need a little consciousness-raising, for wont of a better term, as to why this is important.”

Advocates for the bill say it’s needed in case the Supreme Court, on which conservatives hold a 6-3 majority, rules on a case that rolls back all or part of Roe v. Wade.

The bill would also expand financial resources available for abortion coverage and ensure unauthorized immigrants can obtain an abortion despite their legal status, as well as remove restrictions about which medical professionals can perform the procedure.

“We say that we as a state respect and protect choice, but you cannot claim to say that you are pro-choice if you are only pro-choice for women who can pay for it,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen.

“Reproductive freedom means economic freedom. This right, not a privilege, but an absolute inviolate constitutionally protected right to privacy, is essential to the health, welfare and safety of all women,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, D-Essex.

Groups that oppose abortion rights have mobilized to oppose the bill, including demonstrations outside legislators’ offices in Cranbury, Freehold, Maplewood, Northfield and Teaneck, billboards on routes 9, 17 and 29 and a campaign website calling the proposal infanticide.

“Gov. Murphy and pro-abortion lawmakers want to end the debate over the right to life in New Jersey once and for all,” said Shawn Hyland, director of advocacy for the Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey. “Their solution is simple – abortion at any time, for any reason, without any restrictions, without end, and with your money.”

Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, the target of one of the billboards, said the opponents’ campaign is misleading and not in step with public opinion in New Jersey.

“I think the message to those Democrats who may have questions about this bill because they’re told this misinformation or Democrats that want changes or things that they want to review, let’s begin that conversation,” Gopal said, calling for at least a committee hearing on the bill if not a vote.

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