Three days after the U.S. Supreme Court upended the constitutional right to abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, two committees in the New Jersey Legislature approved two bills today that aim to safeguard New Jersey from other states’ laws restricting or banning abortion.
If the bills end up making it to the Assembly and Senate floor in the coming days, it will be a significant, and relatively unexpected, victory for Gov. Phil Murphy and progressive legislators. Murphy outlined his plan for abortion access in a post-Roe v. Wade world back in May, and while the bills advanced today don’t come close to realizing his vision, they still represent more progress than seemed likely to happen before the summer recess.
The movement on the bills is genuinely last-minute; neither were posted in any committee as recently as Saturday. One prohibits extradition for crimes related to reproductive health services, and the other has several provisions clarifying abortion access for individuals from outside New Jersey.
More specifically, the latter bill shields reproductive procedures from certain subpoenas, bars public entities from furthering investigations into abortions, and establishes that communication with or information from a health care provider about reproductive health services is confidential. It also initially had a provision pertaining to countersuits, but that was removed.
In the Senate, the bills are sponsored by State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair), who said in her testimony that New Jersey has a duty to protect its citizens and abortions within its boundaries, given how many other states are moving to do the opposite.
“Over half the nation is expected to criminalize or restrict access to abortion,” she said. “Due to this, we know many will come to New Jersey to receive care. We must move, on the state level, to protect our rights and our citizens, because the Supreme Court of the United States has said that the Constitution does not.”
Several anti-abortion activists also testified, opposing the bills both on a procedural and a policy level.
“It’s disappointing that these bills are, once again, being pushed through at the very last minute without sufficient public notice,” said Marie Tasy of New Jersey Right to Life, a prominent anti-abortion group. “These bills will make New Jersey a state where even more babies’ lives will be ended, and more women’s lives will be put at risk.”
The final vote on both bills was 6-2-2, with State Sens. Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and Fred Madden (D-Washington) abstaining – both said that the amendments came too late for them to properly understand the bills – and the committee’s other Republicans voting no.
The extradition bill was sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblywomen Lisa Swain (D-Fair Lawn) and Mila Jasey (D-South Orange). Swain had also sponsored a second, separate bill related to protecting abortions performed in New Jersey, but it was substituted in the Assembly Budget Committee to make it match Gill’s bill.
Both Assembly bills passed on a 10-2-3 final vote; Republican Assemblymembers Gerry Scharfenberger (R-Middletown), Aura Dunn (R-Mendham), and Nancy Muñoz (R-Summit) all abstained. No one from the public testified, possibly because the bills were only posted in the committee this morning.
Presumably, since the bills came for committee votes at all, legislative leaders believe they likely have the votes to pass them when the full legislature convenes on Wednesday or Thursday. But as the numerous abstentions in today’s votes show, the road to passage may still not be an easy one.
This story was updated at 7:59 p.m. with a correction: The bills passed by the two committees matched one another, since the Assembly Budget Committee substituted its unique bill for one that matched Gill’s bill in the Senate.