Abortion clinics brace for busy days ahead, as uncertainty over abortion pill mounts

Advocates want more state funding to support inundated abortion clinics

By: - April 14, 2023 6:02 pm

Abortion advocates want more state funding after conflicting federal rulings threw the fate of abortion drug mifepristone into question. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Since dueling federal decisions this week threw the fate of medication abortion into question, reproductive rights advocates in New Jersey have renewed their calls for more state funding to support busy abortion clinics here.

Abortion providers expect the demand for surgical abortions will rise since a federal judge in Texas earlier this month suspended the Food and Drug Administration’s 2000 approval of the drug mifepristone. The drug is used in combination with another, misoprostol, in almost all medication abortions, which account for more than half of abortions nationally.

New Jersey advocates also are urging state policymakers to expand abortion access by including abortion and contraception as covered care under Medicaid.

Besides making abortion more affordable for low-income patients, such a change could entice more health care professionals to provide abortion care, lessening the burden on existing providers that have been increasingly overwhelmed since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned abortion rights nationally last June, said Alejandra Sorto of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

The state needs to “immediately allocate resources” for providing abortion care and remove the barriers to coverage and costs that are currently in place, Sorto said.

Last May, Gov. Phil Murphy announced a plan to expand a law he signed in January 2022 codifying abortion rights in New Jersey, and that plan — called the Reproductive Equity Act — included more money for both abortion providers and low-income women seeking abortions.

But the resulting legislation, which would have created a $20 million fund to beef up clinic training and security and cover abortion care for low-income women, hasn’t moved at all since it was introduced last June.

Murphy spokeswoman Christi Peace said Friday that the governor already has included $50 million in his $53.1 billion budget proposal to support abortion access, including $5 million for security, $5 million for training, $10 million for facility upgrades, and more than $30 million for abortion and other reproductive services.

“Gov. Murphy stands by an individual’s right to make their own reproductive health care choices and will continue to defend that right and protect access to this critical care,” Peace said. “The administration continues to assess ways in which to support access to reproductive health care in New Jersey in the midst of threats to this fundamental right around our nation.”

Late Friday, Attorney General Matt Platkin directed state officials to assure abortion providers they “may continue to prescribe, dispense, or administer mifepristone in a manner consistent with the standards that were in place prior to the recent conflicting court decisions.”

They won’t face discipline for doing so, he added.

“Simply put, the status quo should remain until the courts and the FDA reestablish a stable and clear regulatory framework,” Platkin said in a statement.

Waiting game

A blitz of court decisions has muddied matters since the April 7 ruling in Texas:

  • The same day, a federal judge in Washington state forbade any mifepristone restrictions in 17 states that have sued to maintain access.
  • On Wednesday, a federal appeals court blocked the Texas ruling and ordered mifepristone to remain available with new restrictions, including a ban on getting it by mail.
  • Thursday, the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to restore full access to the pill.
  • Friday, the high court agreed to temporarily block the appellate ruling until midnight this Wednesday, giving the justices time to plot their next steps.

The uncertainty about the pill’s availability “boils down to patients not having the ability to access the medication that is best for them, that they choose,” said Jackie Cornell, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey.

Planned Parenthood’s 21 clinics statewide will not offer mifepristone until the court battle over its fate is decided, Cornell said.

Since the Texas ruling, states like New York, California, Massachusetts, and Washington have stockpiled mifepristone to preserve access, Cornell said. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul also committed $20 million to providers to fund other abortion methods if mifepristone is taken off the market.

Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, objected to the state offering any more funding to support abortion care. Tasy called the amount of money the Murphy administration has allocated to abortion services “just absolutely ridiculous.”

“This is just more of the abortion industry trying to siphon funds from the taxpayers,” Tasy said. 

Increased demand

In New Jersey, abortions have climbed — as they have in most states with supportive abortion laws — since the Supreme Court’s June ruling, a new study released earlier this month found. Providers in New Jersey performed an average of 4,118 abortions a month since the ruling, which is 78 more a month, on average, than before the decision, the study by the Society of Family Planning found.

People come from all over the country to New Jersey now for abortion care, Cornell said.

“We already have a stretched and at-capacity workforce, and there are only so many clinical hours in the day,” Cornell said. “This becomes a kind of complicated Tetris game, in terms of scheduling care for individuals, especially as access to this medication is reduced. So while New Jersey has fantastic laws (on abortion access), it doesn’t save us from the realities of these multiple court rulings.”

She hopes the threat to mifepristone will drive New Jersey lawmakers to act on the stalled Reproductive Equity Act and follow the lead of states like California and New York, which already have created similar funds.

Most of Planned Parenthood’s patients in New Jersey last year were below the federal poverty level, Cornell noted.

“We run a deficit into the millions of dollars every year of uncompensated or charity care,” Cornell said. “We fundraise so that we can provide care, because we never turn anyone away. Now, we are looking at how to keep our clinics open later and longer and meet this moment as providers. Additional funds would be very useful.”

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.

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