By Vin Gopal and Anjali Mehrotra
What happened in Texas is beyond an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade.
First, to fully understand what is at stake, we need to know what the Texas abortion law does exactly. This law contains three major points of horror. New Jerseyans need to understand that this isn’t just a simple abortion law, this law turns upside down the safety and security of every woman in Texas.
First, this law bans abortions after an ultrasound can detect what lawmakers defined as a fetal “heartbeat,” which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy. However, as medical and legal experts explain, this term is misleading as embryos at this stage of development do not yet possess a heart.
Second, this particular bill does not even make an exemption for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
Third, and the main difference from all other bills relating to abortion law, this bill allows private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone else who helps someone get an abortion, even if they have no direct relation to the person receiving the abortion. For example, if a woman were to request a car from a ride-sharing app such as Uber, Lyft, or taxi, the individual who drove the patient to the appointment could get sued for helping even though the individual had no idea what the appointment was for.
The ensuing rush of private citizens now allowed to sue aims to put advocacy groups, doctors, clinics, and other pro-choice organizations out of business by taking up all of their time and money fighting against these suits. Furthermore, people who sued would be awarded at least $10,000 as well as costs for attorney’s fees, if they won their case.
So what does this mean for New Jersey? Despite being legal, access to abortion has always been fragile and limited. In New Jersey, there exists strong case law that provides additional protections beyond the federal law for the right to access abortion care.
But court cases may not be sufficient to fully protect and ensure New Jerseyans access to abortion, particularly if the U.S. Supreme Court follows their inaction on Texas by gutting Roe when they rule on the Mississippi case next year. New Jerseyans will be vulnerable to the same uncertainties that we now face at the federal level.
Women in New Jersey can be at risk of losing their reproductive health rights along with any other state in the country. If New Jersey allows women’s reproductive rights to be determined through case law and political interests, women’s health will always hang in the balance. One need only recall the Christie administration’s hostility to funding reproductive health leading to the closure of six family planning clinics in the state.
It is time to listen to what the people of New Jersey want. New Jerseyans strongly support reproductive healthcare access, as polling has confirmed again and again, and deserve the full protection of rights and expanded access that comes with its lawmakers enshrining in statute, an enforceable policy that has previously only been secured through court cases. Currently, 14 states and the District of Columbia have laws on their books to protect access to abortion care. It’s time for New Jersey to add to that number.
To protect New Jerseyans, and ensure access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare including abortion care for all, New Jersey should enact the Reproductive Freedom Act. We must make a commitment to creating communities where residents are able to receive the care they need — whenever they need it — and decide for themselves if, when, and how to grow their families. Depriving anyone of their constitutional rights and criminalizing private citizens who help, is not only dangerous for this country but a giant step backward.
New Jersey can send the message that we are not going back. When the legislature returns this November, New Jersey needs to pass the Reproductive Freedom Act as one of its first acts, ensuring that what happened in Texas can never happen here in New Jersey.
State Senator Vin Gopal is a prime sponsor of the Reproductive Freedom Act.
Anjali Mehrotra is president of the National Organization for Women of New Jersey (NOW-NJ) and on the Board of Directors for National NOW.