Murphy signs historic abortion law. Some activists say more needs to be done to address access inequities

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy gestures while standing behind a mic

File photo: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy delivers his victory speech in front of supporters at Convention Hall on Nov. 3, 2021, in Asbury Park, N.J. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Thursday signed a measure that codifies abortion rights into statutory law.

The Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act asserts that people in the state have a “fundamental” right to access contraception, to terminate a pregnancy, and to carry a pregnancy to term.

It was quickly passed by state lawmakers on Monday, after being introduced last week.

The signing is a key victory for Murphy’s progressive administration.

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Murphy made abortion rights a priority in the days leading up to last November’s general election, and as the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a Mississippi case asking the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Regardless of whether or not the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, New Jersey’s position in supporting the right to reproductive autonomy will remain clear and unchanged,” Murphy said.

Unlike the previous version of the measure that died in both houses of the legislature, the new law does not require insurance providers to cover the procedure.

It also nullifies any future law, rule, regulation, ordinance, or order that would take away abortion rights. And it enables the Department of Banking and Insurance to study the need for insurance coverage of abortions and to later write regulations requiring it, if necessary.

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Religious employers have the right to request a religious exemption from providing abortion coverage.

However, some abortion rights activists said more needs to be done to make services more equitable.

“What we’re going to continue to push for — not only with the governor, but with the new legislature — is to ensure particularly that immigrant communities who don’t have access to insurance because of their immigration status are covered for the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion, and that for the people that have insurance coverage for this to be at low or no cost,” said Alejandra Sorto, campaign strategist for the ACLU-NJ.

“Despite having health insurance, the cost of accessing abortion can be extremely high and can stand in the way of a person. It could be the line between the person actually being able to exercise this right or not,” Sorto added.

This week, Murphy also signed a law that would require health insurers and the state Medicaid program to cover prescription contraceptives for up to one year at a time.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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