UPDATE ― Jan. 13, 2021: Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act into law two days after this story was published. “The United States Supreme Court is preparing to take a wrecking ball to its own precedent Roe v. Wade, and that would also demolish our case-law-based foundation here in New Jersey,” Murphy said at the signing of the bill. “Neither I nor those with me today can let that happen.”
New Jersey lawmakers voted Monday to pass a bill that expands abortion rights in the state ahead of a looming Supreme Court decision that represents the biggest threat to abortion rights in a generation.
The state Senate and Assembly voted to pass the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, which codifies the right to reproductive autonomy regardless of federal law and expands access to abortion care in the state.
The act guarantees every New Jerseyan “the right to contraception, the right to terminate a pregnancy and the right to carry a pregnancy to term,” according to the bill’s text. The Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act also allows “all qualified health care professionals” to provide abortion care, such as advanced practice nurses and midwives in addition to doctors.
The bill is headed to the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who signaled on Monday that he will sign it into law this week. “A bill to codify a woman’s right to choose into state law and expand access to reproductive health care for all just passed both houses of the Legislature,” he tweeted. “... With Roe v. Wade under attack, the need for this bill is more urgent than ever.”
Some Republican lawmakers were frustrated with how the bill made its way through the legislature, noting that the text was not released to lawmakers until last week. Supporters of the bill, however, became frustrated during a debate on the Assembly floor that support of this legislation was even a question.
“I am so outraged at the fact that we as women are still, in the 21st century, 2022, still trying to defend and justify why we should have the right to make choices in our life,” said state Assemblywoman Carole Murphy (D).
Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D) called out many of her male colleagues who opposed the bill, telling them: “To the men: You are not a woman, and until you have a vagina, you have nothing to say.”
Although the bill passed, some abortion rights advocates and progressive Democrats criticized it for not going far enough. The original text of the bill included a requirement that health insurance companies cover the cost of abortion care and birth control at no cost out of pocket. But after the 2020 election, which saw several blue seats turn red, Democrats were forced to cut the insurance provision in order to get the bill passed in the legislature.
“This is a great first step and we should celebrate the passage of this legislation,” Anjali Mehrotra, president of the National Organization for Women of New Jersey, said in a statement. “But New Jersey can and must do more to improve access to reproductive health care and remove stigma. We need to pass more protections for New Jersey’s vulnerable and marginalized populations, such as removing cost barriers for abortion, ensuring medical abortion remains accessible, and allowing access to hormonal contraception without a prescription from a doctor.”
New Jersey is one of a handful of states taking steps to actively affirm abortion rights ahead of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision. During oral arguments last month, the Supreme Court signaled it will likely overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 high court decision that protects a person’s right to an abortion.
The oral arguments in the Dobbs case left many blue states scrambling to codify or expand abortion access ahead of the impending decision, expected sometime in June. In addition to New Jersey, other states that have added legislation supporting abortion access include Delaware, Hawaii, California and New Mexico. Many red states, however, took the arguments as an encouraging sign to pass more anti-abortion legislation.
The Supreme Court case also came on the heels of the most extreme anti-abortion legislation in the country, passed in Texas in September. The Texas law bans abortion at around six weeks of pregnancy and deputizes private citizens to enforce it. The enforcement mechanism makes the law very difficult to challenge in court, setting off a domino effect of copycat legislation in other anti-abortion states like Arkansas, Ohio, Alabama and others.