Murphy announces new push to expand abortion access as N.J. gears up as a sanctuary state

Published: May. 11, 2022

Intending to “send a message to women across the nation that we simply will not go backwards,” Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday announced proposals that would make abortion care cheaper in New Jersey and train more clinicians to treat people traveling from states where the procedure is expected to be illegal.

In January, the Democratic governor signed a bill that enshrined abortion rights into state law, anticipating the majority-conservative U.S. Supreme Court will render a ruling overturning or restricting Roe V. Wade in June.

Before Murphy signed the law, it was stripped of a provision that would have required state-licensed insurance plans to cover the cost of abortion care. Socially conservative Democrats in the state Senate and Assembly refused to support it, privately saying they didn’t want to make it “too easy” to terminate a pregnancy.

But with the leak of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion last week revealing the intent to repeal Roe — which would give states the authority to enact their own abortion laws — Murphy called on his colleagues in the New Jersey Legislature to take bolder action.

“At that time, there were also some who claimed we were being alarmist and that the Supreme Court would never overturn Roe v. Wade. That was five months ago,” Murphy said Wednesday during a news conference at his office in Trenton.

“Today it is clearer than ever that in the coming weeks, a right-wing majority on the Supreme Court likely will take a wrecking ball to 50 years of its own precedent and for the very first time, overturn a decision in order to diminish our rights.”

”Abortion is health care and health care decisions should be left up to the individual,” he added. “Your body belongs to you. I do not know how to be more clear.”

Murphy proposed legislation that would mandate that insurance plans in New Jersey cover abortion with no out-of-pocket costs.

“A person’s ability to access abortion care should not depend on how much money they make,” the governor said.

State law dictating insurance mandates applies only to state-licensed plans or commercially insured plans, but not to companies that self-insure, which represent the majority of New Jersey residents. If signed into law, this legislation would apply to about 30% of New Jersey’s population.

Murphy also said he would support legislation that would expand New Jersey’s pool of potential abortion providers to include advance practice nurses, midwives and physician assistants. This was another provision that was removed from the original legislation, but late last year, the state Board of Medical Examiners, which licenses doctors, adopted rules allowing these clinicians to perform surgical or suction abortions. These procedures, also known as an aspiration abortion, are the most commonly used in-office technique to end a pregnancy in the first trimester.

If this bill passes, it would codify the board’s rules into law.

Just as Murphy was delivering his remarks, state Senate President Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, and state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, issued a statement saying they “fundamentally support a woman’s right to choose” and “will continue working to protect access and ensure no woman is stripped of her right to choose.”

The statement made no mention as to whether Coughlin and Scutari supported the legislative ideas Murphy proposed Wednesday.

Asked if Coughlin was open to the proposals, spokeswoman Cecilia Williams replied in an email: “The statement speaks for itself.” Scutari spokesman Richard McGrath referred to the statement and declined further comment.

Scutari himself did not respond to a call or a text message seeking comment.

A legislative source who spoke on condition of anonymity said it appears unlikely Scutari and Coughlin will support the proposed bills if you “read between the lines” of their statement. The source did not have permission to discuss the matter publicly.

The bills must be passed by the Senate and Assembly before Murphy could sign them into law.

Murphy acknowledged that getting legislative support may prove difficult.

“We have to meet the moment,” he said. “It won’t be easy. It won’t be a light switch. But we have no choice.”

State Senate Republican Leader Steven Oroho, R-Sussex, issued a statement roundly criticizing Murphy’s announcement.

“Gov. Murphy’s radical proposal calls for free abortions with no limits right up to birth, and he wants struggling New Jersey families to pay for abortions for everyone through even higher taxes and health care premiums,” Oroho said.

Republicans say that because the law Murphy signed in January does not contain language that includes any time limits on when a pregnancy may be terminated, it means an abortion could be performed at any time.

“His plan to codify that non-doctors can perform the highly invasive procedure of an abortion is just reckless and unsafe for women,” Oroho added, noting this was “another example of New Jersey Democrats taking a radical approach that is far out of line with what most families believe is reasonable.”

Recognizing that New Jersey is already becoming a sanctuary state for people seeking abortions, Murphy urged legislators to sponsor two other bills. One would provide legal protections for clinicians and patients who provide or receive abortion care in New Jersey from legal actions in states that have criminalized the procedure.

The other measure would create a “Reproductive Health Accessibility Fund,” a pool of money that would be used to train more clinicians to provide abortion care, provide security for abortion clinics and expand reproductive services to women who are uninsured and under-insured.

Kristyn Brandi, an abortion provider in north Jersey and chairwoman of the national organization, Physicians for Reproductive Health, praised the recent rule expanding the roster of clinicians legally permitted these services. Training them right now is essential, she said.

“I am hopeful they incorporate abortion care into their practice,” Brandi said. “New Jersey is gong to have to ramp it up if people are coming from other states. ... I don’t know we have the infrastructure to handle it.”

“I am really thankful I am in state that recently put protections in place, but I know these protections can be temporary,” she added.

Murphy was joined by Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, D-Essex, and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, the lawmakers who are expected to sponsor the legislation he described.

“Equality demands not just the availability of services but access to services, and it cannot be predicated upon the size of one’s paycheck and the scope of one’s insurance coverage,” Jasey told the packed room of supporters. “It is a moral imperative. We won’t go back.”

The governor was introduced by Monica Attias of Millburn, a mother of three who shared her decision to get an abortion 22 years ago in an interview with NJ Advance Media.

Attias said she wanted to tell her story to help the public understand how complex these decisions are, and to encourage people in red states to support candidates who support abortion rights.

She said she barely survived the birth of her twins after her lungs collapsed and a massive hemorrhage damaged her heart and kidneys. Her doctors told her husband, Philippe she had a 25% chance of survival and “to prepare for the worst,” she said.

Nine months later, still recovering and with a damaged heart, Attias got pregnant again. Doctors could not predict whether she would survive another pregnancy. The couple decided an abortion made the most sense for their young family.

“I was physically, emotionally, and mentally unable to continue with my pregnancy,” Attias told NJ Advance Media. “I loved the children I had too much to possibly allow them to grow up without a mother because she risked her life trying to have another child.”

Following the press conference, New Jersey Right to Life Executive Director Marie Tasy blasted Murphy’s proposals, attributing them to furthering his ambitions for higher office.

“The truth of the matter is that New Jersey does not have an abortion access problem, we have an abortion problem,” Tasy said in a statement.

“According to the most recent statistics, 28% of pregnancies in New Jersey end in abortion, distinguishing us as the state with the highest rate of abortion in the nation,” said Tasy, citing 2017 statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research organization.

“Sadly, women and minor girls will pay the price for Murphy’s extremism and political ambitions,” Tasy added. “New Jersey Citizens will also be paying much higher premiums because abortion coverage will be available under N.J. health plans with no deductibles, no co-pays and no co-insurance.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-05-12 03:15:46 -0700