Updated: Oct 25, 2021
By Jessica Arons and Jordan Goldberg
As we enter 2021, the country is still in the midst of crises related to national politics as well as our collective health and well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc, with the heaviest burdens falling on those who are already failed by our health care system, such as communities of color and immigrants.
But another, less visible crisis looms.
The Trump-Pence administration will leave a trail of decimated rights in its wake and a legacy of a Supreme Court stacked with a majority that opposes abortion access and other protections for working-class people, immigrants, LGBTQ people and communities of color.
Indeed, the Court just allowed the Trump administration to reinstate a policy that makes it harder to access abortion medication during the pandemic.
While the Biden-Harris administration and newly minted Congress can remedy some of these harms, the ability to broadly protect and expand day-to-day access to abortion care still rests with the states.
In states like New Jersey, where reproductive freedom is not as well protected as one might think, what can be done? The answer is clear: pass a bold law that addresses urgent needs. That’s the promise of The Reproductive Freedom Act (S3030/A4848).
As the pandemic overwhelms New Jersey’s health care system and residents suffer from lost income and health insurance, people are experiencing gaps in accessing timely and essential health care. Pregnancy-related care is no exception. And the same dire circumstances that have made health care harder to obtain simultaneously heighten the need to be able to plan our families without barriers, fears or interference from others.
The Reproductive Freedom Act will ensure that New Jerseyans have the fundamental right to make their own decisions about pregnancy — whether to use contraception, carry a pregnancy to term, or have an abortion. It will also repeal unnecessary restrictions on abortion care and ensure that all New Jerseyans, regardless of insurance coverage or immigration status, have affordable access to reproductive health care.
Notwithstanding a recent election that promises a federal government that is friendlier to reproductive freedom, such state legislation is necessary because history has shown us that relying on federal protections — whether through the courts or Congress — leaves our reproductive decisions too vulnerable to attack and too open to cynical political trade-offs.
As national advocates, we have seen states across the country push abortion care further and further out of reach. Despite overwhelming public support for reproductive freedom, the Guttmacher Institute categorizes 29 states as hostile to abortion.
In the past decade alone, anti-abortion lawmakers have enacted more than 460 politically motivated restrictions on abortion. Even progressive New Jersey has outdated and medically unnecessary restrictions that limit access to abortion care, similar to those passed in the most conservative states.
Since the fall of 2018, 10 states have tried to ban abortion from the earliest days of pregnancy. Fortunately, because courts have blocked these draconian bans, abortion remains legal in all 50 states.
But this trend will only intensify, as hostile states seek to give the Court an opening to overturn Roe v. Wade. There are currently 17 cases in the pipeline to the Supreme Court that could further erode the right to abortion. Meanwhile, other federal courts have upheld significant state restrictions that block access to abortion care.
Make no mistake: this Supreme Court is primed to do lasting harm to abortion rights.
New Jersey has an obligation to protect those rights for anyone who needs abortion care — and an opportunity to build on the momentum of strong state pushback in recent years to protect and expand access to the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion.
In 2019, a record eight states passed laws protecting rights and expanding access. Among those, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont recognized that reproductive health care is a fundamental right entitled to the highest level of protection in the courts, safeguarding reproductive decisions no matter what happens to Roe. Other states, including California, Maine, and Virginia, have expanded insurance coverage for abortion, repealed onerous, medically unnecessary restrictions, or taken other steps to expand access to abortion.
New Jersey is poised to join these strongholds of reproductive freedom.
We envision a state that centers on equity and justice, where everyone — regardless of income, zip code, insurance coverage, or immigration status — gets affordable and high-quality healthcare, where families thrive, and where each of us can live with dignity and respect. With the Reproductive Freedom Act, New Jersey can show true leadership and help make that vision a reality.
Jessica Arons is the senior advocacy & policy counsel for reproductive freedom, American Civil Liberties Union. Jordan Goldberg, J.D., is the director of policy, National Institute for Reproductive Health.