By Eric Kiefer
Originally posted to Patch on May 20, 2021
NEW JERSEY — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy stood alongside advocates on Thursday to push for a proposed law that would protect "essential reproductive health care" in the Garden State, including abortion, prenatal care and access to birth control.
According to a previous statement from the governor's office, the proposed law has three main parts:
Enshrining the right to reproductive health care in state statute
Removing financial barriers to care
Removing "medically unnecessary" regulations that block access to care, including abortions
The discussion took place just days after the U.S. Supreme Court took up a case over abortion restrictions in Mississippi, which some advocates fear may be a direct challenge to the heart of Roe v. Wade. It's the first abortion rights case that's gone before the Supreme Court since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Passing the Reproductive Freedom Act would ensure that there are specific protections in New Jersey state law that safeguard those rights, advocates said.
"With the Supreme Court's decision to consider Mississippi's draconian law in the fall, the prospect that Roe v. Wade could now be overturned is more real than ever," Murphy said, calling for a vote by June 30.
"The Reproductive Freedom Act is about creating a healthier future for every New Jerseyan, and the time to pass it is now," he said.
State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, one of the bill's sponsors, agreed. "Recent challenges at the Supreme Court make this bill even more urgent," Weinberg charged. "We need to act now before those nine people in Washington D.C. act for us."
Another of the bill's sponsors, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, said the need to put these protections into state law existed long before the highest court in the nation took up Mississippi's case.
"We've always known that reproductive rights are under attack," Huttle said. "Now, with the latest announcement from the Supreme Court, these threats are closer than ever."
"The debate over the government's role in this incredibly personal and private matter was settled over five decades ago," New Jersey's first lady Tammy Murphy said. "Despite that fact, the threat of limiting or overturning Roe v. Wade will soon advance to the Supreme Court."
"The time has come for us to pass the Reproductive Freedom Act and demonstrate, once and for all, that in New Jersey we trust women to control their own bodies," she added. The Supreme Court isn't expected to hear the Mississippi case until its next session in October.
According to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, the Reproductive Freedom Act is supported by 72 percent of New Jersey voters and half of the majority caucus in the state Assembly are signed on as co-sponsors.
Yet, for more than 200 days, the bill has been languishing in the Legislature, with abortion again a hot-button topic in a year when many state lawmakers are up for re-election.
There has been some public opposition to the act, including a pro-life rally that took place in Trenton last December, and a billboard campaign against the bill led by the Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey.
However, supporters of abortion say the Reproductive Freedom Act is long overdue – and they aren't giving up the fight.
"Across the country, abortion access hangs on by a thread, and for millions, the right to access abortion is just one court decision away from being taken away," said Planned Parenthood Action Fund president and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson.
"Right now, New Jersey has an opportunity that many organizers across the country can only dream about: the chance to protect and expand access to abortion," Johnson said.