N.J. Gov. Murphy announces new proposals to protect abortion rights in the state

In response to a leaked opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, Murphy is proposing expanding access to abortions, while protecting providers and patients from investigations.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announcing new measures to protect abortion rights on May 11, 2020 in Trenton. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announcing new measures to protect abortion rights on May 11, 2020 in Trenton. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy wants to strengthen abortion rights in the Garden State, regardless of whether those seeking the procedure are from in-state or out-of-town.

During his announcement on Wednesday, Murphy said he hopes his proposal “makes our position in New Jersey obvious.”

“I hope it brings hope to all of the advocates…who are working so hard across the nation and the state to protect reproductive rights,” he said.

Murphy is re-introducing two items that were ultimately left out of the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act that he signed in January.

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One element would require insurance companies to cover abortion in their policies. Another would codify regulations that would expand the number of abortion providers – including advanced practice nurses, midwives, and physician assistants – in the state.

The governor is also going further, proposing to protect providers and those who seek abortions in New Jersey from out-of-state investigations. Under the bill, public agencies would be prohibited from cooperating with investigations “into the provision or receipt of reproductive health care.”

It’s similar to a law that was signed last week in Connecticut by Governor Ned Lamont.

“We will not be cooperating with any out-of-state investigation into health care providers that seek to punish anyone patient provider, counselor, friend, uber driver – you name it – for providing abortion care,” he said to a standing-room audience with supporters and activists who applauded the governor’s announcement.

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Murphy also wants to create a new Reproductive Health Access Fund to support abortion access for uninsured and underinsured women, clinical training grants to expand the number of health care providers with abortion training, and funding to help cover security costs to protect “at-risk” health care sites.

The proposals from Murphy come more than a week after a leaked draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was published by Politico. The opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, stated that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start” and effectively says there is no Constitutional right to abortion services.

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) said recent events solidified her belief that enshrining abortion rights was not enough.

“It has required of us that we make sure that equity accompanies access,” she said. “It is an absolute imperative that all the women of our state have full available access to quality reproductive health services.”

Her colleague, Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), recalled his recent experience hearing his daughter’s heartbeat and seeing the ultrasound. He said the conversation should not be about the personhood of a fetus or anyone’s view on abortion care.

He said the conversation should be about whether the government “can force childbirth upon a woman.”

“That is not a decision that should be left to the whim of politicians or any group of men in a back room,” Mukherji said.

Roxanne Sutocky, community engagement director of The Women’s Center in Cherry Hill and part of the THRIVE NJ coalition, praised Murphy for reintroducing the elements left out of the bill he signed earlier this year and for his new proposals overall.

“We’re really heartened to hear that we’re going to go above and beyond in this moment,” she said, specifically citing the law protecting patients and providers from out-of-state investigations. “I think right now is really the time to be making these deep investments in both training the clinical workforce and ensuring that funds are available to make sure that there is equitable access to care and to ensure security.”

Sutocky added that The Women’s Center has been fighting for abortion rights for decades, though New Jersey is a progressive state in the area. Sutocky said people who call the clinic have a sense of urgency, asking if abortion is still legal.

“We know as advocates and as providers that there is going to be a seismic shift in the way that abortion is accessed and provided in this country,” she said. “I think we have no choice in the state of New Jersey [but] to make changes to ensure that we’re bracing for the impact of that.”

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