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Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, right, with Assemblyman Gordon Johnson. (Photo: Assembly Majority Office.)

Vainieri Huttle calls on Coughlin, Greenwald, Johnson to move abortion protections bill

By Nikita Biryukov, May 21 2021 5:02 pm

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) on Friday called on the chamber’s top three Democrats to move the Reproductive Freedom act, which remains stalled as some Democrats question the need to codify New Jersey’s abortions protections.

“Despite the immediate threats to abortion access, legislative leadership continues to double down, refusing to even post the Reproductive Freedom Act for a hearing,” she said in a statement sent by her campaign. “In the General Assembly, our top 3 ranking members, Assemblymen Coughlin, Greenwald and Johnson, continue to stall this critical legislation.”

Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) is the Assembly speaker. Lou Greenwald is the chamber’s majority leader.

Vainieri Huttle is running against Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood), the Assembly speaker pro tem, for Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg’s (D-Teaneck) seat in the upper chamber. Weinberg, the Reproductive Freedom Act’s prime Senate sponsor, is not seeking another term.

The bill, one championed by Gov. Phil Murphy and cosponsored by 26 Assembly Democrats, would enshrine abortion protections in state law and expand access to contraceptives and abortive procedures.

Though there are likely enough votes to clear the bill through both chambers, the measure has stalled amid worries over political risk borne by abortion legislation so close to an election.

Activists renewed their push to pass the bill, introduced last October, after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case over abortion restrictions in Mississippi. Pro-life advocates fear the high court will issue a ruling undoing safeguards provided by Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationally.

“This is the cold, hard truth: This is what happens when just 30% of the seats in the legislature are held by women, this is what happens when 70% of New Jersey’s legislators are male,” Vainieri Huttle said. “When women are left out of the halls of power, women’s rights always seem to be kept on the back burner.”

That case won’t be heard until the court’s next session, which won’t begin until October, and it’s not likely to issue a ruling until spring or summer of 2022. Apprehensive lawmakers are angling to take the bill up during this year’s lame duck session.

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