Gov. Phil Murphy said that the U.S. Supreme Court’s failure to block a Texas law outlawing most abortions after about six weeks into a pregnancy puts Roe v. Wade in jeopardy, but he declined to say if he would exercise his own constitutional authority to call the New Jersey Legislature back into session to act on a proposal to codify legal abortions into state law.
“It’s what we had anticipated could happen, and remember, the reproductive freedoms – I don’t want to get into politics — but the fact of the matter is protecting women’s health here, reproductive freedom in our state, is built on case law,” Murphy said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Murphy acknowledged that “all of that case law is in turn built on the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade.”
“If the foundation of that series of case laws is impacted, impaired, taken away, the entire reality in our state falls like a house of cards, which is why we need to, as soon as possible, put this protection into statute,” he said. “I’m strongly supportive of that and want that to happen sooner than later.”
Murphy’s pitch to pass a state law came hours after his campaign manager called out Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli for being “an extremist who has repeatedly attacked reproductive freedom and refuses to support the (Reproductive Freedom Act).”
“With the Texas law going into effect today and the specter of the Supreme Court decision on reproductive rights in Mississippi this October, there has been no more urgent time to stand up for the rights of women in the last fifty years,” said Murphy campaign manager Mollie Binotto. “Jack Ciattarelli should reverse his decision and stand with New Jersey women and their right to access health care.”
But the Ciattarelli campaign said it was Murphy’s position on abortion that were “extreme.”
“The law he’s pushing would prevent parents from being notified if their 15-year old daughter was seeking an abortion, while allowing abortions up to the minute of birth, performed by someone other than a medical doctor,” said Stami Williams, a spokesperson for Ciattarelli. “That’s insane.”
It’s not clear how quickly Murphy is prepared to escalate the debate over abortion laws and regulations in New Jersey. His office did not immediately address a question over whether he was ready to call legislators – on a recess until after the November 2 election — back to Trenton to tackle the issue as urgent.
“The Governor has supported swift passage of the Reproductive Freedom Act since its introduction last October. The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent lack of intervention in the Texas abortion case only further proves the urgent need to codify Roe v. Wade protections into state law and expand access to health care,” said Michael Zhadanovsky, a spokesman for Murphy. “The Governor believes that we don’t have time to lose and would like to see the bill reach his desk without delay.”
The Reproductive Freedom Act seeks to confirm the legality of abortion and birth control in New Jersey, and require, among other things, that private insurance covers expenses related to family planning with no out-of-pocket costs.
The bill, introduced in October 2020 by a coalition of lawmakers led by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, has stalled in the legislature. Murphy called on the Democratic-controlled legislature to act before they recessed on June 30, but they did not.
Among Murphy’s challenges, Democrats admit privately, is that they don’t have enough votes from their caucus to pass the bill now – especially with some legislators facing competitive campaigns this year. Some Democrats prefer a debate during the lame-duck session – or not at all – and it’s likely that the bill will get watered down as part of a compromise with centrist Democrats and pro-choice Republicans.
The Ciattarelli campaign shares the assessment that the bill Murphy wants passed won’t work with some members of his own party.
“Governor Murphy can’t even get Democrats to support something so out of touch, Williams said. “Otherwise, he would call the Legislature into session and pass his law today. The truth is, for Governor Murphy, this isn’t about women’s health – it’s about politics and he is once again out of step with New Jersey.”
In 1982, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that abortion restrictions infringed on women’s right to control their bodies, but that opinion also acknowledged abortion as an issue “assumed a new dimension” after Roe.