Both houses of the legislature this afternoon passed the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, a pared-down version of the long-delayed Reproductive Freedom Act that will make access to abortion a guaranteed right under state law. Gov. Phil Murphy has indicated he is likely to sign the bill.
The Senate voted in favor of the bill 23-15, while the Assembly passed it 46-23 with eight abstentions. The vote for the most part broke along party lines, although a number of moderate legislators from both parties abstained.
In the Assembly, the bill prompted a series of emotional proclamations from both sides of the aisle, with Democrats – predominantly female Democrats – vociferously defending the right to abortion and Republicans countering with appeals to the rights of the unborn.
“Every time there’s an abortion, it ends a life,” Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin), one of the chamber’s most prominent conservatives, said. “I think we should be promoting life, not expanding abortion.”
“When was the last time one of my colleagues across the aisle introduced legislation to help women take care of their children?” Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City) responded, adding that she was particularly incensed by Republican attempts to refocus the debate on abortion rates among Black women. “Until you have a vagina, you have nothing to say.”
The original version of the bill, introduced over a year ago, also included a mandate that insurers cover abortions, among other provisions. But faced with resistance from a number of legislators from both parties, the bill’s sponsors limited the scope of the final bill to primarily focus on the codification of Roe v. Wade in a series of last-minute changes made last Thursday.
The revised bill passed today does, however, pave the way for the Department of Banking and Insurance to implement an insurance mandate, should a study show that such a mandate is necessary.
While he was hesitant to comment specifically on the bill before it passed the legislature, Murphy said today that he wanted as strong a bill as possible but hinted gay he’ll likely sign the pared-down version that will come to his desk.
“A bill that guarantees a woman’s reproductive freedom, and has the sufficient amount of access provisions associated with it – those are two hugely important conceptual elements of something that we would support,” Murphy said.