(CP) Pro-life activists and religious leaders are slamming the enactment of a New Jersey bill that will legalize abortion up until the moment of birth.
Gov. Phil Murphy, D-N.J., signed the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act alongside Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, the leadership of the state's Senate and Assembly and Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson Thursday. The legislation will "explicitly guarantee, to every individual, the fundamental right to reproductive autonomy, which includes the right to contraception, the right to terminate a pregnancy, and the right to carry a pregnancy to term."
Additionally, the measure will "enable all qualified health care professionals to provide pregnancy termination services in the State" and "advance comprehensive insurance coverage for reproductive care, including primary reproductive health care services, services to terminate a pregnancy, long-acting contraceptives, and long-term supplies of hormonal contraceptives, that enables the citizens of New Jersey to fully exercise their freedom of reproductive choice while recognizing the rights of certain religious employers to request an exemption from such coverage."
In a statement, Murphy praised the "historic legislation" as a necessary precaution with the United States Supreme Court slated to rule on a case that could reverse or chip away at Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
"In New Jersey, we trust each individual person to make their reproductive choices for themselves," he said. "With Roe v. Wade under attack, today's historic legislation makes clear that New Jersey's position in supporting the right to reproductive choice remains protected."
McGill Johnson cheered the occasion as a "historic day for reproductive health in the Garden State" and "an important step forward for reproductive freedom." She expressed gratitude for the "constant advocacy by the governor, legislative champions, Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, the Thrive New Jersey Coalition and more to ensure the state met the moment and secured access to essential health care in the state."
While Murphy, McGill Johnson and other top Democrats in the state government applauded the passage of the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, pro-life groups and religious leaders have lamented the development. Bishops leading the state's five Roman Catholic dioceses as well as the Byzantine and Syriac Catholic dioceses released a joint statement condemning the state Legislature for approving such a bill.
"This law departs from the fundamental Catholic teaching that all life is sacred from conception to natural death," they wrote. "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."
New Jersey Right to Life, a pro-life organization based in the state, warned that "because of the broad wording in this bill and the fact that there are no gestational limits anywhere in the bill, this new statute will allow abortions at any point in pregnancy, even if the baby is viable or full term."
Additionally, the group expressed concern that "the Act leaves the door open for a future bill to allow abortion coverage to be mandated in all health insurance plans by authorizing a study by the Dept of Banking and Insurance to adopt through regulation policies to provide such coverage."
"It includes an exclusion for a religious employer as long as they provide notice to covered persons and prospective covered persons and seek permission from the Commissioner of Banking and Insurance. The Act excludes religious employers from an exemption for abortion coverage for the State Health Benefits Commission and the School Employee's Health Benefits Commission."
Murphy's signature of the Freedom of Reproductive Choice comes two months after he narrowly won re-election against Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli in a state President Joe Biden carried by nearly 16 points in the 2020 presidential election. Earlier this week, the bill passed the state Senate in a vote of 23-15 and the state assembly approved the legislation in a vote of 45-24.
The Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act received no support from Republicans in either chamber and only one Senate Democrat broke ranks by voting against it.
New Jersey's efforts to pass a bill establishing a right to abortion, thereby codifying Roe v. Wade into state law,date back to 2020, when former President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the Supreme Court. New Jersey is not the only state to pass an abortion bill derided by critics for allowing abortion up until the moment of birth in recent years. Since 2019, New York, Rhode Island, Illinois and Massachusetts have passed similar measures.
The push to codify Roe v. Wade into law has intensified after the Supreme Court allowed a six-week abortion ban to go into effect in Texas as litigation continues. The Democrat-controlled led House of Representatives passed the Women's Health Protection Act last year but the measure has failed to pass because of opposition in the evenly divided Senate.