Gov. Phil Murphy announces new legislation to expand access to abortion and protect patients and providers in New Jersey at a news conference at his office in Trenton on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Photo by Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)
With a U.S. Supreme Court decision looming that observers believe will allow for greater abortion restrictions nationwide, Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday announced a wide-ranging plan to expand abortion access and protect patients and abortion providers in New Jersey.
New measures, if passed, would require the state to create a fund to help uninsured and underinsured patients pay for abortions, cover security costs at clinics, and train more providers, Murphy said. The legislation would also require private insurers to fully cover abortion costs — something lawmakers failed to include in a January abortion access bill because they could not drum up enough support for the idea.
“A person’s ability to access abortion care should not depend on how much money they make. If we’re going to guarantee the right to an abortion, we need to guarantee access to an abortion,” Murphy said.
The bills also would expand New Jersey’s pool of potential abortion providers to advanced practice nurses, midwives, and physician assistants by codifying recent regulatory changes.
And they would protect patients and providers from states like Texas that have threatened to jail, fine, or allow lawsuits against anyone who gets or performs an abortion, Murphy said. The bills would prohibit public entities from cooperating with interstate investigations into abortion care and establish civil liability protections for people who get sued for getting or giving an abortion.
“Your body belongs to you!” Murphy said to a crowd in Trenton that erupted in applause.
It was the Democratic governor’s first press conference at his office since the early weeks of the pandemic, and he packed the room with supporters, including abortion rights advocates who carried signs with slogans like “Abortion is health care/health care is a human right.”
The Legislature’s Democratic leaders, who hold the key to whether bills get heard, issued a joint statement that did not explicitly endorse the measures. Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) instead pointed out lawmakers already acted in January to guarantee abortion rights in New Jersey.
“Turning back the clock is not the New Jersey way and by codifying 50 years of legal precedent into state law, we have made sure that a woman’s health decisions can and will remain her own,” they said in the statement. “Together we stand by our decisive action, agreeing that Trump’s appointees to the court are radically anti-democratic, and will continue working to protect access and ensure no woman is stripped of her right to choose.”
Rights eroding nationally
Murphy’s announcement came less than two weeks after a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion signaled the nation’s top court would overturn Roe v. Wade and place abortion in states’ hands to restrict or protect as they want.
A day after that news, Murphy assured New Jersey residents that abortion is protected here, especially since lawmakers codified and expanded reproductive rights in January — but he also implored federal lawmakers to act to protect abortion rights nationally.
Wednesday, Murphy said New Jersey can’t wait for the feds. Expanding abortion rights in New Jersey will send a message to women everywhere that “we simply will not go backwards,” Murphy said.
“We understand the threat that restricting abortion care poses to so many,” he said. “We understand that doing so pushes pregnant individuals outside of the medical landscape and places them in danger of surveillance, punishment, and criminalization. No one should be criminalized for getting the care they need. Abortion is health care. And health care decisions should be left up to the individual.”
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday failed to advance a bill that would enshrine abortion protections nationwide when Republicans and one Democrat filibustered the measure.
Your body belongs to you.
– Gov. Phil Murphy
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), one of the sponsors of New Jersey’s legislation, said the additional protections are a matter of equity.
“Equity demands not just the availability of services, but access to those services, and it cannot be predicated upon the size of one paycheck or the scope of available insurance coverage,” Jasey said. “By taking this most necessary next step, we will really, truly give all the women of New Jersey the right and the power to make the most crucial and important decisions, free from governmental interference and financial considerations.”
The announcement drew swift criticism from abortion opponents, who complained Murphy sought to make New Jersey a “sanctuary state for abortion.”
“New Jersey doesn’t have an abortion access problem. We have an abortion problem,” said Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life.
The Garden State has some of the highest abortion rates in the nation. A survey from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, said there were 28 abortions per 1,000 women in New Jersey in 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in 2019 the rate was 13 per 1,000 women.
Tasy accused Murphy of using abortion “to further his presidential ambitions.”
Assembly Republican Leader John DiMaio (R-Warren) called the new measures “extreme.”
“Murphy is hastily pushing legislation that was rejected by members of his own party last year because it was too extreme,” DiMaio said in a statement. “And he wants taxpayers to foot the bill for that very legislation. If the U.S. Supreme Court hands down a decision, it will have no impact on New Jersey. Murphy is fighting windmills.”
Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), another sponsor of the legislation, pushed back on the critics.
“We all agree the ideal number of abortions would be zero, if that were possible,” he said. “But then let’s join together and make low-cost or cost-free child care available to all.”
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