Since the catastrophic overturning of Roe v. Wade, the public discourse has rightfully focused on abortion rights. All Americans — regardless of which state they call home — should have the right to make their own personal health care decisions when it comes to continuing or terminating a pregnancy. But there is a scenario that has played out countless times across the country, even in states where the right to an abortion is upheld: a patient is unable to get the care they need — not because abortion is illegal, but because the patient can’t afford it.
In this year’s midterm elections, according to exit polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the topic of abortion was the single most important issue for a quarter of voters across the country. Thankfully, Governor Murphy and legislative leaders acted swiftly and decisively ahead of the devastating Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Signed into law in January of this year, abortion rights are codified into state law with the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act. Additionally, the fundamental right to abortion is further protected under our state constitution by decades of New Jersey State Supreme Court precedent.
Abortion rights are crucial, and they are well-protected in our state. Now, we must take the next step forward, and work to expand access to abortion care. Everyone in New Jersey deserves not only the right to reproductive freedom, but also the resources and actual ability to make their own health care decisions. A right is meaningless if you can’t exercise it.
As abortion advocates, including providers and grassroots supporters across the state, we appreciate all the work our legislators have done to protect reproductive rights in New Jersey, and for seeking guidance from advocates and experts providing reproductive care daily when making policy decisions on this issue. It signals their openness for real collaboration as we continue the process of broadening access to abortion and reproductive care across the state.
In late November, Democratic legislators considered — and then subsequently rescinded — a ballot measure to approve a constitutional guarantee of reproductive rights statewide. A state constitutional amendment would require a careful deliberative process to ensure that it expands on existing protections and doesn’t introduce risk or uncertainty in the legal landscape. The amendment proposal faced a challenging timeline for the legislative process and the necessary input required to ensure that the language of the amendment protected and expanded our existing rights and moved our state forward.
In our assessment, a constitutional ballot measure would come with an enormous price tag, costing tens of millions of dollars on language that is already state law. (This fall in Michigan, around $57 million was spent over an abortion referendum.) These are millions of dollars that could otherwise be put toward providing high-quality health care, dissolving existing limitations on abortion access, supporting patients, and more.
Last week, with such limited time to develop and review bill language with scrutiny, things could have very easily resulted in a muddied legal landscape. This would have produced an unintended adverse effect and potentially brought our right to abortion backwards in our state. Our legislators sought the guidance of advocates and came to understand that, at this point, the risks associated with the timeline were likely too great to overcome.
Midterm election results in New Jersey, and across the country, demonstrated widespread support for abortion access. Our legislators understand that voters want to see our elected officials take action and expand access to care. New Jersey legislators have already shown tremendous leadership on the issue; now it is time to develop policy that further protects the right to autonomy, freedom, and personal decision-making.
We look forward to continuing our work in partnership with supporters of reproductive health care services this coming year to get this right — which must include increased access and funding for reproductive health, and specifically abortion care. We commend our state leaders for taking important steps toward protecting the fundamental right to abortion. Now we need to make sure we have true access for all.
Abortion Justice Committee of North Jersey
Action Together New Jersey
Advocates for Youth
American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ)
American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch
Cherry Hill Women’s Center
Latina Civic Action
Latino Action Network Foundation
League of Women Voters of Mountain Lakes
League of Women Voters of New Jersey
League of Women Voters of New Jersey, Women and Family Issues Committee
National Council of Jewish Women, Bergen County Section
National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section
National Council of Jewish Women, New Jersey
National Institute for Reproductive Health
New Jersey Affiliate of the American College of Nurse Midwives
New Jersey Family Planning League
New Jersey Policy Perspective
New Jersey Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC-NJ)
New Jersey State Society of Physician Assistants
Northern New Jersey NOW
Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey
Princeton University College Democrats
South Jersey NOW Alice Paul Chapter
Stanton Strong Inc.
UU Faith Action NJ
(Retired) State Senator Loretta Weinberg
Women for Progress
YWCA Northern New Jersey