Gov. Phil Murphy said a U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade would have “no impact on New Jersey state law.” (Courtesy of New Jersey Governor’s Office)
With the U.S. Supreme Court now poised to strike down Roe v. Wade, federal lawmakers must act to protect and codify abortion rights as New Jersey legislators recently did, Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday.
The Democratic governor railed against “this court stacked with Trump appointees” in condemning the “enraging” leaked draft of an opinion that signals the court may repeal the 1973 landmark decision that guaranteed abortion rights as constitutionally protected.
Murphy — speaking at a news conference in Lambertville on an environmental initiative — assured citizens New Jersey’s new Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act protects their abortion rights here. Murphy signed that act into law in January, after various versions of it languished for years in the Legislature.
“If the court indeed does take this awful step, this decision will have no impact on New Jersey state law, or the full right to reproductive freedom under our state law. This remains fully intact, because here in New Jersey, instead of hoping for the best, we prepared ourselves for the worst,” he said.
The New Jersey law, while widely hailed by abortion rights advocates as protecting access, was a watered-down version of what its sponsors originally introduced.
It passed only after lawmakers eliminated provisions that would have required insurers to cover abortions and contraceptives, increased the number of health care professionals who can terminate pregnancies, and provided insurance coverage for undocumented women through the state Medicaid program.
To address the insurance concerns, the act tasked the state Department of Banking and Insurance with studying whether the cost of an abortion is a barrier to low-income and uninsured women and insurance companies should be required to cover the procedure.
That study is now underway, and the agency is accepting public comment until May 26. Employers that are religious nonprofits would be exempted.
Will Congress act?
Twenty-two states have passed such restrictive abortion laws in recent years that if Roe falls, abortion will be illegal, or nearly so, in almost half of America, said Leslie Kantor, chair and professor in the Department of Urban-Global Health at the Rutgers School of Public Health.
Kantor agreed with Murphy that federal legislators now might be driven to act.
A congresswoman from California introduced federal legislation in June that would give health care providers the statutory right to provide abortion services. That bill, called the Women’s Health Protection Act, would preempt any state laws that forbid or limit abortion.
The Democratic-controlled House passed it in September. But the Senate in February failed to advance it, after it fell short of the 60 votes Senate filibuster rules require for most legislation to advance to debate.
Recent polls show broad support nationally for abortion rights so anyone upset about the high court’s draft opinion should regard it as a reminder of the importance of voting, said Kantor, a former Planned Parenthood Federation of America executive.
“If, in fact, there isn’t going to be court protections for health care in the United States, then we better make sure that we elect people who are going to protect people’s and health providers’ rights to make health decisions,” she said.
New Jersey has long been a progressive state, but Republicans made major gains in last year’s election, even though they remain the minority party. Some GOP state legislators celebrated the court’s draft opinion.
“It seems likely the Supreme Court is on the verge of fixing a 50-year mistake,” said Sen. Ed Durr (R-Gloucester). “It’ll be a major victory for the pro-life community and for all those who kept faith that change would one day come.”
While both sides wait to see what federal legislators might do, Kantor predicted change ahead in the abortion landscape in states, no matter how restrictive or accessible they are for reproductive rights.
She expects the demand for medication abortion could rise, as clinics close or reduce their services in response to rising restrictions. She also voiced concern about authorities criminally charging women who get abortions or abortion providers, as well as laws such as one in Texas that permits people to sue anyone who performs or aids in an abortion, even if they have no personal stake in the matter.
State legislators could feel compelled to draft legislation setting regulations around both of those issues, Kantor predicted.
“These are the kinds of things that will end up making abortion almost impossible, even though this is an extraordinarily common, safe procedure,” Kantor said. “We need to be thinking about the women who will be hurt the most across the country. At this point, the majority of people who get abortions are low income. This is a huge equity issue.”
Two New Jersey lawmakers here have already pre-filed legislation to prevent anyone from suing New Jersey residents under the Texas law. Assembly members Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson) and Lisa Swain (D-Bergen) submitted a bill in January that would bar plaintiffs from suing New Jerseyans under Texas’ law, disputing Texas’ jurisdiction.
Nikita Biryukov contributed to this article.
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