By Jennifer Calfas
Originally published to the Wall Street Journal on January 13, 2022
A person’s right to an abortion in New Jersey is now enshrined in state law, as lawmakers there bolstered protections for the procedure months ahead of a pivotal U.S. Supreme Court decision that could upend federal abortion rights.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill Thursday that codifies abortion rights into state law. He also signed a second bill that expands insurance coverage for birth control.
“Regardless of whether or not the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, New Jersey’s position supporting the right to reproductive autonomy will remain clear and unchanged,” Mr. Murphy, a Democrat, said before signing the bills. The Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act codifies protections related to reproductive choice—like the right to access contraception, terminate a pregnancy or carry a pregnancy to term—into state law. The new law cites New Jersey Supreme Court decisions that found reproductive choice is a fundamental right under the state and federal constitutions. Laws, regulations and ordinances that could threaten that right would be invalid or not take effect, according to the new law.
The law said the state Department of Banking and Insurance will study whether to require insurance companies to cover abortions. Depending on that research, the department could make it a requirement, which could come with religious exemptions.
New Jersey Right to Life, an antiabortion group in the state, is now looking into options for repealing the bill or launching a legal challenge, said Marie Tasy, the group’s executive director.
“There are many aspects of the bill that seem to be ripe for a legal challenge, so we are talking to attorneys to see if there is an opportunity to do that,” Ms. Tasy said.
Lawmakers, abortion providers, advocates and opponents around the country have been preparing for the coming U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion protections.
The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, weighs restrictions in Mississippi banning the procedure after the 15th week of pregnancy. But in its brief, Mississippi took direct aim at the high court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, arguing the ruling tramples states’ rights.
A decision is expected no later than the summer. Should the court overturn Roe, state laws and regulations around abortions could become all the more significant.
Fourteen other states including Illinois, California and New York, plus Washington, D.C., have passed laws protecting rights to the procedure under state law, according to the Guttmacher Institute. New Jersey is now the 15th state to do so. A dozen other states have passed trigger laws that would automatically or quickly outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned. Lawmakers and leaders in some states are pushing new legislation this year aimed at restricting access.
In Florida, GOP lawmakers this week introduced bills that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy unless a woman is at a serious physical risk. In South Dakota, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem said she intends to ban all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
In New Jersey, lawmakers who support abortion rights said they had worked for decades to reach this point. “The day in New Jersey is here,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver.
The Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey supported the legislation but has criticized the bills for not addressing insurance gaps or affordability issues for some residents.
Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, vice president of public affairs, said the group hoped to work with lawmakers to address those concerns after the study on insurance comes out.