TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy, anticipating possible changes to the Roe v. Wade ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, signed a bill Thursday enshrining the right to an abortion into state law.
Murphy signed the measure in the waning days of his first term, fulfilling a campaign pledge made in the lead-up to his reelection victory in November and after it appeared as if the Democrat-led Legislature might fail to advance the bill.
“Regardless of whether or not the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, New Jersey’s position in support of the right to reproductive autonomy will remain clear and unchanged,” Murphy said during a signing ceremony in Teaneck, New Jersey.
The final version of the bill leaves out a requirement for insurance coverage of abortion that some advocates had sought and instead authorizes the state Banking and Insurance Department to study the issue and possibly adopt regulations if a need is discovered.
In addition to abortion rights, the bill also specifically outlines a right to access contraception, as well as to carry a pregnancy to term.
New Jersey joins 14 states and the District of Columbia with statutory protections for abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights think tank.
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A Supreme Court ruling could come in June in a case in which the court was asked to overturn a nationwide right to abortion that has existed for five decades.
The case has state legislatures across the country responding to the possibility of seismic changes to the 1973 Roe ruling. Republican-led legislatures are ready to further restrict or ban abortions outright, and Democratic-controlled ones seek to ensure access to abortion.
At least 20 states, mostly across the South and Midwest, already have laws that would restrict or ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe and lets states decide the issue, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
In New Jersey, Murphy had pushed for the bill, but it was stalled in the Democrat-led Legislature as the majority faced voters in November and then reeled from losing six Assembly seats and a net loss of one in the Senate.
“What happened was that sort of everything coalesced around the fact that the Supreme Court has a real chance to weaken or overturn abortion rights, and now was the time to put those statutory protections in place,” said Elizabeth Nash, state policy analyst with Guttmacher.
Republican lawmakers in at least half a dozen states said last year that they planned to introduce legislation modeled after a new Texas law that effectively bans abortion about six weeks after conception. The law is aimed at circumventing the federal courts by leaving enforcement up to individuals rather than the state.
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New Jersey Republicans opposed the legislation.
“This bill and the rhetoric we’ve heard from the other side is: any abortion, at any time, for any reason,” said Assembly member Jay Webber this week.
Some Republicans have said they support a woman’s right to get an abortion, most prominently the GOP nominee for governor last year, Jack Ciattarelli, but he opposed early versions of the bill Murphy signed, saying it went too far.
A vocal supporter of abortion rights and self-styled progressive, Murphy extended an olive branch of sorts to abortion opponents on Thursday.
“I hope that we can come together in the greater calling of our faiths to make parenthood an easier safer choice for anyone in search of support,” he said.
Murphy said the signing was in Teaneck because it’s the home of former state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who sponsored the legislation before she left office this month.