New Jersey legislative leaders confirmed tonight that plans to enshrine the right to an abortion in the State Constitution have been called off at the request of key backers, including Planned Parenthood of New Jersey.
Democratic lawmakers had been divided over the measure. Some thought a November 2023 ballot referendum would increase voter turnout to increase their chances of holding majorities in both houses of the state legislature next year. But there were enough Democrats uncomfortable with framing the next election around the abortion that leadership was not completely certain the votes were there this year.
In the end, Planned Parenthood and others decided they didn’t want to divert financial resources behind a ballot initiative in a state where Roe v. Wade was already codified into law while they are facing tougher fights in other states.
But perhaps more importantly, the language for the proposed constitutional amendment remains incomplete and advocacy groups were concerned that a mistake in the wording of an amendment to the State Constitution could be hurtful.
The New Jersey Globe first reported the collapse of the plan on Friday.
“New Jersey Democrats worked together earlier this year to enact the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, which codified the constitutional right to freedom of reproductive choice in New Jersey ” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Assemblywoman Lisa Swain (D-Fair Lawn) said on Sunday evening after a conference call with their caucus. “While we were open to advancing a new ballot question on reproductive rights before the end of the year, advocacy groups like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have asked us to hold off for the time being, particularly with battles occurring in other states where reproductive rights are at immediate risk.”
Senate President Nicholas Scutari and Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) said that they wanted to “strengthen protections” of abortion in New Jersey.
“After many conversations with stakeholders, we have decided that now is not the appropriate time,” Scutari and Ruiz stated. “We remain steadfast in the efforts to continue to protect women in New Jersey and will remain dedicated to ensuring that women will always have the right to decide what is best for their bodies and their families.”
Coughlin and Swain echoed the intent of Democratic lawmakers to revisit the idea of a constitutional amendment at a later date.
“We remain committed to protecting the freedoms of people of New Jersey to make their own decisions about how and when to start a family, and we will work together to determine how we can continue that support without weakening critical efforts in other states,” they said.
Amol Sinha, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, praised legislators for their efforts but urged them to instead take “immediate action to extend equitable access to reproductive health care, including abortion, to all in New Jersey.
“A state constitutional amendment that only maintains the status quo is unnecessary, and without a careful, deliberative process, a ballot measure risks creating uncertainty in the legal landscape. We must do more,” Sinha stated. “This moment calls for building upon New Jersey’s robust legal protections to create access to abortion care and ensure that this right is a reality for all in our state.”
According to Jackie Cornell, the executive director of Planned Parenthood of New Jersey, “ballot measures are a step we should only take if we need to – and right now, we don’t.”
“Thanks to the leadership shown by Governor Murphy and the Legislature, New Jersey already has some of the strongest abortion protections in the country. Additionally, our state benefits from nearly forty years of state Supreme Court precedent protecting abortion rights,” she said. “A misworded ballot measure could bring us backwards. We will continue to advocate for strengthening access to reproductive health care, including abortion, by breaking down barriers to getting care and making meaningful financial investments into providing care. This is what will truly move our state forward.”
Cornell confirmed that Planned Parenthood was retiscent to spend “tens of millions of dollars” in New Jersey next year.
“Wee believe a better approach now is investing those dollars instead in providing health care services. Our top priority is ensuring that patients receive the full range of reproductive health care services they need,” stated Cornell. “Any ballot measure needs to be very carefully considered and we support efforts to ensure that it is done in the right way – by energizing supporters and protecting hard-won freedoms enjoyed by people in New Jersey.”