Make no mistake: Abortion is on the N.J. ballot this year | Editorial

Originally posted on


There is a consensus that abortion rights are safe in New Jersey, and that nothing is likely to dim the beacon of freedom that our state represents for any woman who needs access to reproductive health care.

The reality is more sobering. In a post-Roe nation, where 21 states have imposed full bans or significant restrictions on abortion rights, New Jersey could be only a few election cycles away from severe curtailment or a possible elimination of those rights, and all you have to do is listen to the politicians who want to make that happen.

Ask Senate minority leader Anthony Bucco (R-Morris), who might become the state’s top lawmaker if Republicans gain control of the upper chamber in 16 days: He affirms that while laws and attitudes are difficult to change, his party would attempt to abolish abortions later in pregnancy– which are performed almost entirely in cases involving severe distress – and eliminate Medicaid funding, which would make it much harder for women of lesser means to afford the procedure.

Is it likely? Listen to Bucco, then ask whether Democrats exaggerate when they warn that access to reproductive healthcare is in jeopardy. Because clearly, it’s on the ballot this year if control of both chambers – and ultimately the governor’s office in two years – shifts to the Republicans.

“There is no way you’re going to muster enough votes in the Legislature to change the policy of New Jersey,” Bucco conceded in a meeting with the editorial board last week. “Now, you may get some of the extreme stuff taken out, like late term-abortions — abortion right up until the point of delivery. You might get something like that.”

What else? “And maybe taxpayer funding,” the leader replied.

These are neon red flags.

They are reminders that anti-abortion politicians have always been certain that they are better equipped than a woman and her doctor to determine whether a pregnancy should be carried to term, and as Chris Christie proved for eight years, some Republicans have no misgivings about making reproductive health care available only to the wealthy by erasing funding for Planned Parenthood.

We know this because they introduce such bills almost every year.

So ask yourself again what can happen if the Assembly and Senate turn over next month, followed by the 2025 election of a governor like Jack Ciattarelli, who favors a ban on abortions after 20 weeks and supported Christie’s cut to family planning services.

“Accessibility of abortion is most definitely on the ballot this year,” said Jackie Cornell, executive director of Planned Parenthood of New Jersey. “By that, I mean budget decisions, decisions on who and how abortions are performed, and all the other ways that the current administration has shored up access for as many as possible. All this is very much at stake.

“It wasn’t long ago that Christie cut funding for family planning — that’s cancer screenings, birth control, STI testing and treatment. Those are sensible things that people are completely aligned with, and we had a governor who cut them. So ask yourself: How safe are women, really?”

Former Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg is more blunt: “I have news for Bucco,” she said. “In my book, and for most women in this state, what he’s suggesting is pretty radical.”

Staci Scheetz, founder of the South Jersey Women’s Alliance added, “We have these rights because of laws, but laws can be repealed. Make no mistake, the elimination of abortion rights in New Jersey could be just a few cycles away.”

If all that sounds paranoid, recall that the Republican Senator up for re-election in the 3rd District, Edward Durr, defines reproductive freedom like this: “A woman does have a choice, keep her legs closed,” he once wrote on social media.

We will soon learn whether the issue will move the needle in a year that Republicans expect to pick up seats. Democratic candidates have pointed out that many Republicans favor extreme limits on abortion, while unencumbered by any clue about what they’re talking about. They circulate myths about women who casually choose to abort fetuses in the 9th month of pregnancy, with armies of doctors lined up to help.

These are the facts: Only 1% of abortions happen at or after 21 weeks, still well within the second trimester, according to the CDC. Doctors strictly limit when they will perform them, and only a handful of clinics in the country will perform an abortion in the 8th or 9th month, which can cost more than $10,000.

These are not thoughtless decisions. These are women facing tragedies, like a fatal birth defect or a life-threatening emergency for the mother.

Ask your Senate or Assembly candidate: Have they crafted their own strategy to deal with a fetus that has anencephaly, where parts of the brain and skull are missing? Or bilateral renal agenesis, a fatal condition in which the kidneys did not develop?

Or would they prefer to sensationalize it, and craft more bills that accuse the doctor and mother of infanticide?

“I often wonder what kind of faith these crazy right wingers have in women,” Weinberg said. “Do they seriously think that a woman goes through nine months of a pregnancy and then suddenly says one morning, ‘I think I’ll have an abortion.’ Have they no trust in a woman’s ability to make the appropriate health care decisions at the appropriate time in their own lives?”

An OBGYN specializing in these cases, Dr. Kristyn Brandi, recently told us: “This is not something that should be in the political domain. Any time legislation tries to get into the weeds about these things, it doesn’t really reflect what real care looks like.”

The right to choose should be guided by a presumption of gravity – a belief that no woman makes the decision to terminate a pregnancy casually. They feel the full force of the moral grip around the decision and spend endless hours and days wrestling their conscience.

But some Republican candidates this fall – starting with their leadership — believe they can figure it out for them, which would be laughable if it weren’t so imperious. For now, women still have a choice in New Jersey. But the most important one they make could be on Nov. 7

Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to

Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook.