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Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Reproductive Freedom Act stalls as lawmakers question need

Weinberg hopes to move measure by year’s end

By Nikita Biryukov, March 25 2021 5:35 pm

An abortion-rights bill introduced last October as lawmakers braced for a U.S. Supreme Court with a 6-3 conservative majority to reexamine Roe v. Wade has stalled without even a committee hearing as lawmakers weigh whether the measure is necessary with a Democrat in the White House.

The Reproductive Freedom Act would confirm the legality of abortion and birth control in the Garden State — something that’s not necessarily at question — and require, among other things that private insurance covers expenses related to family planning with no out-of-pocket costs, among other things.

But while the bill was announced with great fanfare, its movement through the legislature appears to have stalled before it even began.

“There has been some opposition — I wouldn’t say opposition — but some pushback from some members in both houses who don’t think we really have to do this now,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), the bill’s prime sponsor. “There’s those of us who don’t agree, so hopefully, we’ll see this move by the end of the year.”

Weinberg declined to say whether some of the opposition emerged from her own caucus.

“I think it’s just opposition from people generally,” she said. “I wouldn’t characterize it.”

If push comes to shove, there are likely enough Democratic votes to send the bill to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk, where it would almost certainly be signed, but lawmakers are also weighing whether a need for the bill actually exists.

“We’re looking at right now a lot of the things in that bill already exist in statute in New Jersey right now, so we’re taking a very thorough review of it,” Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said. “The reality is a lot of what’s in Roe v. Wade is already in statute in the state of New Jersey right now.”

New Jersey’s Supreme Court in 1982 ruled abortion restrictions infringed on women’s right to control their bodies, but that opinion also acknowledged abortion as an issue “assumed a new dimension” after Roe, the landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide.

This article was updated to include context on abortion’s legality in New Jersey at 7:58 p.m.

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