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A Republican Assembly candidate in the 25th district called on his Democratic opponents to condemn an attack ad aired by an outside group Thursday.
Denville Councilman Brian Bergen, who is running for retiring Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll’s Assembly seat, called on Democrats Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger to condemn an ad attacking his and his running mate’s record on women’s health issues.
“The recent slanderous TV ads accusing me of being against breast exams and cancer screenings are absurd and insulting,” Bergen said. “My mother is a breast cancer survivor, and my family carries the BRCA2 gene mutation which leaves us predisposed to certain cancer types. My sister needs to get screenings every six months for breast and ovarian cancer as a result.”
The ad was put on the air by NJ United, a non-profit group formed by allies of Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.
For Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, the 30-second spot cites a series of no votes the assemblyman has made over the past decade on bills that would provide supplemental funds for family planning services in the state. Bucco received 0% ratings from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in 2018 and 2016.
“While his political patron, Anthony Bucco, slashed funding for women’s healthcare by more than $7 million, voted to deny women access to contraception and proposed the most draconian abortion ban in the history of New Jersey, I was providing the very kinds of screenings Brian mentioned to women every day,” Bhimani, an OB/GYN said.
The ad’s attack on Bergen ties his opposition of the budget Trenton Democrats passed in June to opposition for breast exams and cancer screenings.
“The notion that I would ever do anything to limit their care or in any way negatively impact education of the necessity of preventative screens is despicable,” Bergen said. “Bhimani and Draeger should be ashamed that their Trenton allies are airing these ads. If they have any decency, they will join Anthony and me in calling for their immediate removal.”
Bergen said he opposed the budget because it contained “hundreds of millions of dollars for special interests, massive cuts to 25th district schools and over $1 billion increase in spending.”
He did not specify which special interests he was referring to, though the budget did provide funds for cancer screenings.
To Bhimani the lack of clarity made little difference.
“Brian Bergen should try explaining to his mother and sister why in June he proudly said he ‘would have been a resounding “no”’ to a budget that provided millions of dollars of funding for women’s healthcare, and why he’s partnered with Anthony Bucco, who holds one of the most despicable, anti-women voting records of anyone in the State Assembly,” she said.
The Democrats did not condemn the ad, despite the Republican’s call.
Bhimani instead leveled an attack following a similar line.
“Let me be clear: there are two advocates for women’s health in this race, and two men who have opposed every piece of hard-fought progress,” Bhimani said. “If Brian really cares about women’s healthcare he should act that way, but he certainly doesn’t need to explain it to me — I’ve dedicated my entire career to it.”
The budget increased support for women’s health and family planning from $7.5 million to nearly $10.5 million — a number that reflected more money added by the Legislature than was initially proposed.
The Democrats restored funding for Planned Parenthood in 2018, eight years after Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a staunch Bucco ally, removed it from the state budget. The move affects more than 10,000 women statewide, offering cancer screenings at health clinics.
Had the budget not passed, as Republicans wanted, the women’s health funding would not have occurred.