Durr proposes ban on abortions after 12 weeks

·3 min read
Matt Rourke/AP Photo

A week after Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a measure writing abortion rights into state law, a freshman Republican senator who’s a rising star on the right is seeking to ban abortions in New Jersey after the first trimester.

Sen. Ed Durr (R-Gloucester), who famously upset former Senate President Steve Sweeney in the November election, introduced legislation last week that would repeal the new abortion rights law, bar most abortions after 12 weeks and impose potential prison sentences on providers who violate the law.

While the bill, NJ S1107 (22R), has virtually no chance at becoming law given the Democratic majorities in the Senate and Assembly and the state Supreme Court’s historic protection of abortion rights in New Jersey, the measure reflects a rightward shift in Republican politics, barring abortions eight weeks earlier than a different bill, NJ S649 (22R), sponsored for years by other conservative state senators. Durr has also signed on to that bill as a sponsor.

“[Democrats] hold the majority and the odds are against me, but so were the odds against me winning an election,” Durr said in a phone interview Monday.

The details: Durr’s bill would require physicians — who would be the only people allowed to perform abortions — to “make a determination of the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child” before conducting the procedure, or get the “reasonable” opinion of another physician.

The only exceptions to the ban would be if the woman’s health is in danger because of the pregnancy or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or, in the case of a minor, incest, but only if the rape or incest has been reported to a law enforcement agency or the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency.

If allowed to go forward, the abortion provider would be required to conduct the procedure in “a manner which … provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive” unless it would “pose a greater risk to the pregnant woman’s death or greater risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”

Durr said in a follow-up text that he decided on 12 weeks because, he said, cardiac activity can be detected as early as six weeks and fetal viability is roughly 24 weeks, “so I figured double the heartbeat bit and cut the viability in half.”

The punishment: The woman who underwent an abortion would not be punished under the proposal, but violators would face a third-degree charge punishable by three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

Political context: Durr’s unexpected ousting of Sweeney, one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers, made into a star on the right, in part because of his blue collar background as a truck driver and because he spent little money on the campaign.

His bill does not go as far as a Texas measure that bans abortions at six weeks, but is more restrictive than a Mississippi law’s 15-week ban.

“I just know that 12 weeks is the first trimester and I think a trimester is more than enough time to decide an abortion,” Durr said. “If you cannot decide after three months, then why should it go past that?”