By Montana Samuels
Originally published to Wyckoff Patch on December 3, 2021
NEW JERSEY — The Reproductive Freedom Act is intended to serve as New Jersey's answer to abortion challenges happening in Mississippi and other parts of the deep south.
When it was introduced, legislators came out with strong support about the bill, which would officially legalize abortions in the state.
But recently, progress on the bill has been stalled, even as the Supreme Court hears arguments on a Mississippi law that could shift abortion policy across the country.
"As access to health care and the right to choose are under attack at the federal level, we will support, defend, and protect reproductive rights here in New Jersey," said Murphy, at the time.
"The Reproductive Freedom Act will remove barriers to reproductive health, as well as expand access to contraception while reaffirming choice. Together, we stand unwavering in our commitment to work towards reproductive freedom for all New Jerseyans."
Murphy often doubled down on his support while on the campaign trail, including when he spoke at a virtual roundtable with representatives from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in late May.
"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.
But the election seemed to provide an interesting benchmark in the life of the bill, with little to no movement happening in the legislature. With some New Jersey Democrats perhaps tepid because of a strong showing from Republicans, there's an understanding that bills viewed as especially progressive could prove troublesome when it comes time for re-election in toss-up districts.
But, perhaps as a way to find a middle ground, the latest reports indicate that the bill will eventually be stripped of some more progressive elements, according to Assemblymember Vince Mazzeo.
Politico's Matt Friedman first reported the development, which came during Mazzeo's appearance on a conservative talk radio show in October.
"I talked to [Senate] President [Steve] Sweeney and he says he's more of the line to just make sure [the right to an abortion is] codified because of what's going on in other states," Mazzeo said.
That would be a substantial change of course from the original proposal, which, in addition to formalizing the legality of abortions in the state, would also require insurance companies to cover them with no out-of-pocket costs for abortions or birth control, and would ease regulations on doctors and facilities that can perform abortions later in a pregnancy term.
According to a 2020 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
In addition to a lack of action from lawmakers, there are also oppositional forces at play. Much as there are organizations like Planned Parenthood in support of the bill, there are also organizations preparing to up their fight against the measure.
Speaking with NJ Spotlight News, New Jersey Right to Life Executive Director Marie Tasy called the bill "very extreme."
But there are people in New Jersey who continue to push for the bill to see a vote, or even appear on an agenda.
Demonstrators gathered outside the statehouse in Trenton on Thursday in support of the bill, but also as a show of support for abortion rights nationally just one day after the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments on a Mississippi case that could ultimately overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.
The case at issue — Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Association — challenges a Mississippi law that bans abortions in most cases after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The law undercuts the standard set by Roe that guarantees women access to the procedure up until the fetus is viable outside her womb, typically around 23 or 24 weeks after conception, and longer in cases where the woman's life or health is in jeopardy.
Murphy spoke during a virtual event with Planned Parenthood on Wednesday, and called the Mississippi law "medieval".
With opposition to the Mississippi clear, and a bill already written up and ready to discuss, one question still lingers are the Supreme Court justices consider shifting abortion policy nationally: what are New Jersey lawmakers waiting for?