The Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act – the legislative push to enshrine and expand abortion rights in New Jersey – was signed into law Jan. 13 by Gov. Phil Murphy.
The law, which passed in the State Legislature Jan. 10 by wide margins, codifies the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 1982 decision to affirm the right to abortion.
“This law departs from the fundamental Catholic teaching that all life is sacred from conception to natural death,” the state’s Catholic Bishops said in a news release issued through the New Jersey Catholic Conference. “Even more distressing is that the legal and ethical calculus that underlies this new legislation absolutely and forthrightly extinguishes the human and moral identity of the unborn child. Perhaps the legislators who rushed through this Act in the waning moments of their terms did not want citizens to understand fully its inhuman and lethal consequences.”
The original Reproductive Freedom Act was a controversial bill introduced in October 2020 aiming to expand abortion services in New Jersey to include late-term abortions, state-funding for abortions, mandating health insurance coverage for abortion services, and allowing for non-physician medical providers to perform abortions, all of which the NJCC vigorously opposed.
On Jan. 5, however, the NJCC learned of a compromised version of the bill – S49/A6260 – which effectively removed all barriers to abortion services. The legislation moved with extraordinary speed out of committees Jan. 6 and passed in the State Legislature. The State Senate voted 23-15 and the General Assembly 46-22 with 8 abstentions. State Sen. Fred Madden, D-4, who represents parts of Camden and Gloucester Counties, broke with Democrats to oppose the legislation.
“We have failed as a society when a response to any pregnancy is fear rather than joy. Sadly, too often this fear is born out of the mother’s uncertainty she will not be able to provide for herself and her child the resources necessary to live a flourishing life. We must do better,” the bishops said in their statement. “Therefore, we urge all Catholics and people of good will to actively participate in breaking down the economic, employment, social, racial, and emotional barriers that lead mothers into thinking that abortion is a better option than life.
“For our part, the Catholic Church is committed to broadening and increasing awareness about the abundant resources and programs we offer that include life-affirming health and prenatal care, emotional support, assistance in bearing and raising her child, and basic needs such as housing, food, and clothing to pregnant mothers seeking or considering alternatives to abortion,” they said.
Ahead of the vote, the NJCC working with diocesan Respect Life Offices and the Knights of Columbus, called on Catholics and people of good will to urge their state elected officials to vote “no” on S49/A6260. Faithful from the Diocese of Camden generated 1,120 messages to legislators in three days urging a “no” vote.
James King, NJCC executive director, expressed concern about the haste in which S49/A6260 advanced through the legislative process.
“I’ve seen this process take years, take months,” he said on Jan. 7 on the Diocese of Camden’s Talking Catholic podcast. “I’ve never seen it go as quickly as this for a bill that does not address an immediate budgetary issue. There is no justifiable reason to move this controversial bill this hastily through the legislative process.”
Pro-life advocates were disheartened Dec. 6, 2021, when Gov. Murphy’s office announced the approval of changes to the State legislature’s rules on who may perform abortions, as well as expanding the locations where such procedures may take place.
The new rules, voted in by the medical examiners board, would allow first-trimester abortions to be performed by non-physicians, including nurse practitioners, midwives and physicians assistants, even in office settings.
The NJCC submitted comments to the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners in March, strongly opposing the proposed amendments by the State, “which would advance policies that threaten the sanctity of life and other human rights,” and challenged the justification for the amendments.
“The Board asserts that the current health and safety regulations for abortions in New Jersey present an undue burden that limits access to these procedures,” the NJCC stated in its comments. “However, recent statistics on the number of abortions performed in New Jersey suggests otherwise.”
According to the most recent data available, the NJCC continued, in 2017 New Jersey accounted for 5.6 percent of abortions performed in the United States. Additionally, between 2014 and 2017, New Jersey experienced a 9 percent increase in abortions while the remainder of the country witnessed an 8 percent decrease.
EmmaLee Italia is a contributing editor with The Monitor, the magazine for the Diocese of Trenton. Articles from Catholic News Service also contributed to this story.
Published here with permission of The Catholic Star Herald