Home>Feature>Murphy unveils legislative plan to further expand abortion access in N.J.

Gov. Phil Murphy and members of the State Assembly at a May 11, 2022 press conference on expanding abortion access. (Photo: Joey Fox for the New Jersey Globe).

Murphy unveils legislative plan to further expand abortion access in N.J.

Insurance mandate is back, alongside a proposed reproductive health access fund

By Joey Fox, May 11 2022 4:17 pm

Before a crowd of supporters and activists in Trenton, Gov. Phil Murphy announced today that he will push for a raft of new legislation strengthening abortion access in New Jersey through an insurance mandate, a reproductive health access fund, and more.

In January, Murphy signed the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, codifying abortion access into state law. But following last week’s leak of a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and contravening the constitutional right to abortion, the governor said that more needs to be done.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to ensuring all New Jerseyans have access to reproductive health care, including abortion, and we stand with women across the nation who are facing inevitable hardships on the horizon,” Murphy said. “Without access, rights mean nothing.”

Two key components of the governor’s plan, which has yet to be released in any written form, were previously included in last session’s Reproductive Freedom Act: a mandate that requires insurance companies to cover abortion with no out-of-pocket cost, and an expansion of the pool of abortion providers to include advanced practice nurses, midwives, and physician assistants.

Both of those provisions were removed after struggling to get support from moderate legislators, and the bill signed into law was more limited in its scope (and had a new name, the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act). Under the provisions of the bill that ultimately passed, a potential insurance mandate is under review by the Department of Banking and Insurance, but Murphy said today’s proposed mandate would supersede that study.

Alongside these previously abandoned provisions, Murphy also said he would fight for two new proposals. One would create a state-funded reproductive health fund for uninsured women seeking abortions and abortion providers needing increased security, and another would protect New Jersey’s abortion providers from legal action taken by more restrictive states.

Additionally, Murphy said the state will not cooperate with out-of-state investigations into abortions performed in New Jersey.

“I hope this proposed legislation makes our position in New Jersey obvious,” Murphy said. “And I hope it brings relief to anyone in another state who needs to come to New Jersey for necessary and safe health care.”

The governor was joined today by a bevy of assemblymembers who would likely provide an early base of legislative support for any future abortion legislation.

 “It is an absolute imperative that all the women of our state have full available access to quality reproductive health services,” Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-South Orange) said. “Equity demands nothing less than an eradication of the financial barriers to obtaining contraception and prenatal services, including abortion.”

“As other states are promoting vigilantism against women, we as a state can serve as a beacon of protecting women’s rights while they are being chipped away in other jurisdictions,” Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City) added.

But notably absent from the event were Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-South Amboy) and Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden); when asked whether he had spoken with the two legislative leaders about the proposed bills, Murphy would only say that they’re “outstanding leaders.”

Coughlin and Scutari released a statement of their own during Murphy’s speech, in which they said they fundamentally support abortion access but did not offer any firm commitments beyond that.

“Turning back the clock is not the New Jersey way and by codifying 50 years of legal precedent into state law, we have made sure that a woman’s health decisions can and will remain her own,” they said of the already-passed Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act. “Together we stand by our decisive action, agreeing that Trump’s appointees to the Court are radically anti-democratic, and will continue working to protect access and ensure no woman is stripped of her right to choose.”

Senate Minority Leader Steven Oroho (R-Franklin), meanwhile, issued a statement of his own that blasted Murphy’s plan to provide “free abortions for all.”

“Governor 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. “Along with the extreme new sex education mandates they are forcing on our children, this is another example of New Jersey Democrats taking a radical approach that is far out of line with what most families believe is reasonable.”

Given how much resistance controversial proposals like an insurance mandate encountered last session – and how many Democrats wouldn’t vote for even the pared-down final bill – the governor and his legislative allies no doubt face a difficult road ahead, especially with the summer legislative recess looming. But Murphy said that the battle is still one well worth fighting.

“This is a deeply personal reality, but … we have to meet the moment,” the governor said. “It won’t necessarily be easy, it won’t be overnight, it won’t be a light switch – but we have no choice.”

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