The U.S. Supreme Court again has put itself in a position where it might revisit its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that women have a constitutional right to abortion. It last did so in 1992, when it clarified somewhat the conditions and limits on abortion that would be allowed.
Unlike then, now the court has a majority of six Republican-appointed justices considered more conservative than its three Democratic appointees. It has taken a case concerning Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a more severe restriction than has previously been allowed. People from all perspectives on abortions think — some fearing, some hoping — there’s a significant chance this time the court could revise Roe v. Wade.
As it happens, this is also the year in which Gov. Phil Murphy is seeking reelection, and the pro-choice governor has started pushing for New Jersey to enact its own legal abortion law just in case the federal right is lessened or disappears. The proposed New Jersey Reproductive Freedom Act, dormant in the Legislature since its introduction in October, would guarantee residents the right to choose to continue a pregnancy or have an abortion.
While many states have restricted abortions, about a dozen have enacted laws protecting abortion rights and access, even where it was legal prior to the Supreme Court ruling. Most have repealed pre-Roe abortion bans, the latest being New Mexico, which didn’t end its ban until February.
If the U.S. Supreme Court returns responsibility for abortion law to the states, New Jersey residents should be given the choice of whether they wish abortions to be legal and, if so, under which conditions. But that’s a big “if” and even were it done, the transition would very likely be slow enough that states would have time to resume such responsibility.
Fighting over such a sharply divisive issue before the state has standing on it would be premature. But making the issue part of a gubernatorial campaign is welcome, so voters know where a candidate stands should the responsibility come to New Jersey. Murphy supports the Reproductive Freedom Act’s expansive support for abortion rights and access, while opponent Jack Ciattarelli opposes it as too expansive.
Let the issue be a pertinent factor among many in the gubernatorial race, but leave the battle over where New Jersey stands until it matters where New Jersey stands. No point inflaming partisan animosity over something that might remain moot.