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by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle
Published on NorthJersey.com
For nearly half a century, women in the United States have had a constitutional right to access safe and legal abortion services. And since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, opponents of reproductive rights have been relentless in their attempts to take away our rights.
The fate of reproductive freedom has long been at the mercy of the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, with the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, the balance has shifted.
The balance of the Supreme Court, whose ideological makeup and beliefs do not reflect those of most Americans, presents a significant threat to the basic freedom that gives all of us the fundamental choice of deciding when and whether to have a family, and guarantees us personal control over their bodies and our futures.
These rights are and will be under siege in a barrage of court cases, and fear that these freedoms and the right to reproductive healthcare protections enshrined by the U.S. Supreme Court nearly a half-century ago could be lost.
Under the belief and conviction that every New Jerseyan should be able to make such choices freely and have access to the quality medical care they need to support their decision, we have introduced the Reproductive Freedom Act.
As a state, New Jersey has a legacy of protecting reproductive freedoms. This bill will codify this tradition and ensure that everyone who needs essential health care — including birth control and pregnancy-related care, including abortion — is able to receive it.
As politicians in other states race to take reproductive rights out of reach of their constituents, we are working to ensure that all New Jerseyans have access to the care that they need, no matter what.
We understand that decisions around family planning and pregnancy are deeply personal. As legislators, we believe that these decisions should not be in the hands of politicians with no expertise on these issues but instead in consultation with a woman’s family, physician and faith.
Often, individuals and groups that are opposed to safe, legal abortion spread misinformation, in the hopes of pushing access to these essential reproductive health services out of reach. These claims are simply untrue – they do not reflect the reality of abortion care. What we know, and what this bill supports, is that a person’s health and specific circumstances, not political interference, should guide important medical decisions throughout their pregnancy. We can all agree that everyone should be able to get care based on our unique needs and doctor’s best advice. And that’s what this bill does – it ensures that individuals in New Jersey can make their own personal health care decisions.
This legislation is critical as opponents of reproductive rights and abortion rights continue their relentless attacks on these basic freedoms.
Over the last five years, anti-abortion politicians have introduced nearly 500 bills to establish medically unnecessary abortion restrictions in states across the country, with more than two dozen laws enacted last year alone. Some of these laws have been especially punitive, forcing those in need of reproductive health care to travel hundreds of miles to receive services or placing undue restrictions on providers.
Studies have showed that those states that have imposed restrictive abortion laws are those that leave large numbers of pregnant women without health care and tend to have higher rates of infant mortality.
With the ascension of Justice Barrett, who has been openly hostile to reproductive rights, we simply can no longer rely on the courts to protect our societal right to safe, legal abortion care. Now, more than ever, we must stand up for access.
As elected representatives, we have a responsibility to advocate on behalf of our constituents. We believe that these fundamental rights must be preserved for our residents, regardless of race, religion, geography, socioeconomic status or gender, including transgender and non-binary individuals. It is clear that those members of our communities who already face significant barriers to health care due to the systemic racism that persists in our nation’s institutions will be among those at greatest risk if this basic right is taken away.
If the global coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that New Jersey families and neighborhoods are stronger, safer, and healthier when everyone has equal access to treatment and care. Now is the time to prioritize the health and well-being of our residents by ensuring that everyone who needs essential reproductive care can avail themselves to it without fear or undue burden. We must actively protect and respect the individual right to make medical decisions, especially personal choices about birth control and pregnancy.
Further, the Reproductive Freedom Act will make New Jersey residents healthier by knocking down barriers to health care, especially in Black, Hispanic and immigrant communities who are bearing the brunt of this global pandemic. Our bill makes certain that financial barriers do not get in the way of exercising fundamental reproductive rights and removes medically unnecessary restrictions that serve to block access to care.
We know that many members of our communities struggle to access affordable birth control and safe, legal abortion. This legislation aims to ensure that no one is left behind.
Whether making the decision to have an abortion or deciding to have a child, all New Jerseyans should have access to the medical care they need. We must ensure that New Jersey unequivocally respects individual choices and supports families.
But we need to act swiftly. New Jersey must prioritize the health and well-being of all people in our great state. We must protect and expand everyone’s ability to access reproductive health care. We are proud to sponsor the Reproductive Freedom Act and call upon our colleagues in the Legislature to join us in passing it now.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, serves as New Jersey Senate Majority Leader and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, serves as Deputy Speaker of the Assembly.