Home>Highlight>Who were the holdouts on the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act?

Assemblyman Joseph Egan. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Who were the holdouts on the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act?

Six Democrats and four Republicans broke with their party on abortion codification bill

By Joey Fox, January 18 2022 6:00 am

When the New Jersey legislature passed the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act last week, codifying abortion into state law, it did so largely on partisan lines: Democrats were eager to support the bill while Republicans lined up against it.

But ten total legislators, including six Democrats and four Republicans, did not align with their caucus and either abstained on the bill or voted against their party – a sign that abortion, while a polarizing issue, still has some ability to transcend party lines.

Among Democrats, State Sen. Fred Madden (D-Washington) voted no, while five members of the Assembly – Assemblymembers Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton), Joseph Egan (D-New Brunswick), Thomas Giblin (D-Montclair), Gabriela Mosquera (D-Gloucester), and Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) – abstained.

Presumably, the six Democrats who broke with their party did so out of discomfort with the bill or their own pro-life beliefs, but it’s difficult to know for sure, as none of the six responded to requests for comment on their vote.

Former Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), a sponsor of the bill and one of its most prominent boosters, said that she knew before the vote that some Democrats would not support the bill. But the important part, she insisted, was making sure the bill passed, not who individually voted for it.

“We kind of knew, going into the final negotiation period, the group [of Democratic legislators] that would not be impressed one way or the other no matter what we did to this bill,” she said. “It was to make sure we had 21 and 41 votes, and we – with the help of the Senate President and the Speaker and the governor – obviously did that.”

Anjali Mehrotra, the president of the National Organization for Women of New Jersey and another high-profile advocate for the bill, said that while she understood some people – including some Democrats – have pro-life beliefs, her organization had hoped those beliefs would stay personal.

“It’s ok to have personal beliefs,” Mehrotra said. “Our hope was that legislators would recognize that, as part of their responsibilities, they are not to impose their beliefs on others.”

But Mehrotra added that she was optimistic that, if the bill has been in serious danger of failing, some of the abstaining Democrats would have come around.

“I think, in the end, if their vote really was needed, I would like to believe at least that they would have voted yes,” she said.

The group of six breakaway Democrats weren’t alone in their rebellion, however. While no Republicans voted in favor of the bill, four abstained: Assemblymembers DeAnne DeFuccio (R-Upper Saddle River) and Nancy Muñoz (R-Summit), and now-State Sens. Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and Jean Stanfield (R-Westampton), both of whom were members of the Assembly at the time.

Bramnick, who as then-Assembly Minority Leader was the most notable member of his caucus to abstain, said that he has always identified as a pro-choice Republican, and supports guaranteeing access to abortion under state law.

“Are you in favor of Roe v. Wade? Yes. Are you in favor of a woman’s right to choose? Of course I am,” he said. “I have always been one of the few pro-choice Republicans in my caucus.”

But in defending his choice to abstain, Bramnick said that the bill went too far past codifying abortion access for him to be comfortable voting yes.

“To me, all we had to do is endorse Roe v. Wade,” he said. “You would have gotten a lot of Republican votes, in my judgment. Just make it clear. But don’t go to the next level.”

Concerns like Bramnick’s had already led to significant changes in the bill; while previous versions of the bill implemented an insurance mandate with no out-of-pocket costs for abortions, among other provisions, the final bill was pared down in some significant ways.

For Bramnick, and apparently for every other pro-choice Republican in the Assembly and Senate caucus, those changes were still not enough to gain their support. But Weinberg speculated that they had another motive for not voting yes: fear of retribution from their own party.

“There was always optimism on my part that some of these Republicans would vote the way I know that they feel,” Weinberg said. “I find it sad that, in their own party, they felt it necessary to abstain.”

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