Gov. Phil Murphy, surrounded by supporters, signs the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act in Teaneck on January 13, 2022. (Courtesy of New Jersey Governor's Office)
Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill Thursday codifying the right to an abortion into state law, a move abortion rights advocates say is necessary as the U.S. Supreme Court has signaled it may overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision later this year.
The new law (S49), dubbed the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, will also permit the state Department of Banking and Insurance to conduct a study on whether the cost of an abortion is a barrier to low-income and uninsured women, a step toward requiring insurance companies to cover the procedure.
Alongside recently retired state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Bergen County Democrat and longtime abortion rights advocate, Murphy celebrated the move as the fulfillment of his campaign promise to protect a woman’s right to choose. Abortion rights in New Jersey had until now been protected by case law, not state statute.
Murphy appeared at the Teaneck Public Library with a crowd of lawmakers, state officials, and advocates donning pink to signal support of Planned Parenthood
“The United States Supreme Court is preparing to take a wrecking ball to its own precedent of Roe v. Wade, and that would also demolish our case law-based foundation here in New Jersey,” Murphy said.
The new law is a scaled-back version of a previous bill, the Reproductive Freedom Act, which stalled in the Legislature after it was introduced in 2020 and lost more support when Republicans flipped seven Democratic legislative seats last year. The law as signed does not require insurance companies to cover abortions outright.
The broader measure also would have required insurers to cover contraceptives, and increased the number of health care professionals who can terminate pregnancies. Undocumented women also would have been covered through the state Medicaid program under the older bill.
The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case challenging a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks. It’s believed the conservative-leaning court is likely to uphold the state law and overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision protecting a woman’s right to an abortion.
More than 20 states are preparing to restrict access to reproductive health care and freedom, according to an October 2021 report from pro-choice think tank Guttmacher Institute
Lawmakers passed the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act Monday, with Republicans in both chambers speaking out against the bill. The Senate approved the measure by a 23-15 vote, and the Assembly took a vote of 46-22, with eight abstentions.
Republicans have been vocal in their opposition to the bill, arguing it goes too far in a state with high abortion rates. They also decried the swiftness with which the bill passed the Legislature, just four days after its introduction. All Republicans abstained or voted against it.
“This bill and the rhetoric we’ve heard from the other side is: any abortion, at any time, for any reason, on any one, paid for by the taxpayer,” Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris) said before the Assembly voted.
Marie Tasy, executive director of pro-life group New Jersey Right to Life, said the law signs a “death warrant for thousands of innocent children.”
Murphy also signed a separate law (S413) that requires contraceptives to be prescribed 12 months at a time and forces state-regulated insurers to cover the cost.
Speaking in Teneack Thursday, Weinberg recalled the first bill Murphy signed when he came into office four years ago, one that allocated $7.5 million to women’s access to health care.
“I had spent eight years introducing that bill each year, and getting it passed each year, then getting it vetoed by the then-governor of the state of New Jersey,” Weinberg said, referring to Chris Christie.
To Murphy, she added, “You set the stage and you have never failed us.”
The former senator promised to keep being an “annoying, nagging, and sometimes obnoxious” advocate for women in her retirement.
Murphy in his remarks called himself a devout Catholic and said his own “journey and evolution of this issue has not been easy,” adding he has “trust for others, especially for those with limited means for whom restrictions on access to reproductive health care has the most devastating effect.”
A few pro-life protestors shouted during the signing ceremony, and held signs reading “Baby’s lives matter.” During her remarks, Planned Parenthood CEO Alexic McGill Johnson said the small minority is loud, “but we are louder, we are stronger, and we are just as relentless.”
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