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State board expands access to abortion in N.J. through regulation changes

By Dana DiFilippo

Originally published to New Jersey Monitor on October 13, 2021

The New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners unanimously agreed Wednesday to repeal several restrictions on abortion, effectively expanding access by allowing medical providers other than physicians to terminate pregnancies.

The move comes six weeks after Texas lawmakers enacted a controversial abortion ban that drove abortion-rights advocates across the country to rally to preserve women’s right to choose. States nationally have enacted more than 100 abortion restrictions so far this year, the most since abortion became legal in 1973, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In New Jersey, lawmakers are expected to act after they return to work in November on a stalled bill, the Reproductive Freedom Act, that would codify and expand abortion access here.

Under the rule changes approved Wednesday, “early aspiration terminations” — the most common abortion method in a pregnancy’s first trimester — will soon be able to be performed by advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives, and certified midwives.

The board also voted to get rid of a rule that barred office-based terminations beyond 14 weeks gestation. The rule changes — first proposed in January — follow the recommendations of a board subcommittee created in 2018 to study whether existing regulations needed updating. They will take effect when the rules-adoption notice is published in the New Jersey Register sometime in the coming months.

Supporters say the rule changes should expand access to abortion in New Jersey, because they authorize about 17,000 medical professionals other than physicians to perform abortions.

“Today’s action eliminates medically unnecessary rules that have disproportionately limited health care access for people of color and underserved communities,” acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck, whose office oversees the board, said in a statement.

A Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey leader applauded the changes.

“As legal abortion faces impending threats, it is more important now than ever before for New Jersey policymakers to ensure that everyone seeking abortion in our state continue to have access to the highest quality reproductive health care,” said Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, the fund’s vice president of public affairs.

Polling has found most New Jerseyans support abortion access.

A September 2019 poll from the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found 63% of New Jerseyans say abortion should be legal in most or all cases. In 2014, a Pew poll found support for legal abortion sits between 52% and 69%, depending on political party.

On Tuesday, GOP gubernatorial hopeful Jack Ciattarelli said he would support codifying abortion rights in New Jersey if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade. Ciattarelli supports banning abortion after 20 weeks.

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