'I refuse to go back': Rutgers-Newark rally supports Senate bill for abortion rights
NEWARK — Abortion rights advocates gathered on the Rutgers-Newark campus on Monday in support of the Women's Health Protection Act of 2022, two days before it goes up for a vote in the U.S. Senate.
If it passes, the bill would legalize abortion nationally and override state laws that restrict or ban the procedure. The measure is not expected to pass, as Democrats don't have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and force a floor vote.
“A woman’s right to choose is true female empowerment,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake, who represents Montclair, Clifton and East Orange.
“I refuse to go back to a time when abortion was illegal,” when thousands of women died, Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat, said in front of a crowd of about 50 students and supporters, some carrying "Abortion is Healthcare" signs. No anti-abortion protestors were present at the rally.
Wednesday's Senate vote is intended to force members of Congress to take a public position on abortion, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said last week.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., as a response to a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would reverse a woman’s right to have an abortion, made legal in 1973 in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. The high court ruled that the U.S. Constitution protects a pregnant individual's right to choose to have an abortion.
The leaked Supreme Court draft opinion and efforts to revoke and even criminalize abortion rights culminated in a “devastating moment for reproductive rights,” said Dr. Krystin Brandi, an obstetrician and abortion provider.
Overturning the Supreme Court's abortion ruling won't make the issue “go away,” Brandi said at Monday's rally, but rather it will jeopardize the health of women who cannot afford to travel to states like New Jersey that have passed laws to protect the right to the procedure.
Currently, 13 states have adopted “trigger” laws that would go into effect immediately and make abortion illegal should the Supreme Court rule to overturn Roe v. Wade. Twenty-six states could vote to ban abortion, creating a “crisis for women’s rights,” said Roslyn Rogers Collins, CEO of Planned Parenthood of North Jersey.
Holding up a round metal frame with a photograph of her great-aunt, Timberlake told the crowd gathered on a plaza near the university's Conklin Hall that the young woman, whom she never met, died as a result of "a back-alley" abortion. Timberlake was 14 when her grandfather told her how his sister died.
“I hold this photo up not just for my aunt but for all the women who died because they did not have a choice,” Timberlake said.
New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-Montclair, and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker also spoke at the event.
“I know women who have had abortions that are completely content with that decision, and I know women who have had abortions who absolutely regret it every single day of their life," Timberlake said. The thing they have in common, aside from abortion, she said, is "that they had the choice. That it was their decision. So I am an absolute, radical supporter of women having choice.”
Reproductive rights are human rights, Menendez said. The right to abortion also enshrines the constitutional right to privacy, he said. Without access to abortions performed by medical providers, the lives of low-income, minority and undocumented pregnant women are at risk, contributing to the inequity in health outcomes, he said.
“We are about to go to a perverse 'Handmaid's Tale' reality,” Booker said, referring to the dystopian Netflix series based on a novel by Margaret Atwood in which women are forced to give birth against their will in a totalitarian society.
The word 'abortion': Abortion is the word of the hour. But where did it come from?
Coming from out-of-state: Number of out-of-state pregnant people seeking abortions in New Jersey expected to grow
Abortion is legal in New Jersey through the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, which state lawmakers passed in January. However, the law does not provide for free abortions to uninsured individuals or those whose insurance does not cover the cost.
The New Jersey law guarantees "the fundamental right of reproductive autonomy." The bill also allows "all qualified health care professionals" to conduct abortions. That aligns with new state regulations letting professionals other than doctors, such as advanced practice nurses and midwives, perform the procedure.
Ruiz, who represents Newark, said she is “not empowering people to murder babies,” an allegation she said was made by a Republican colleague on Twitter. “This is the same group that when we talk about gun safety they act as if we’re going to … take away their last meal,” she said, yet they are ready to come into houses of private citizens and police the bodies of women, taking away their right to choose.
Justice Samuel Alito's leaked opinion draft argues that the right to abortion should be overturned because it is not “deeply rooted” in the nation’s tradition, Ruiz said. Her response, she said, is that the United States is rather deeply rooted in “patriarchal traditions and a myopic view of women through the lens of man not understanding what is at stake here.”
The speakers urged the crowd to ask their congressional representatives seeking reelection during this year’s midterm elections to discuss their position on abortion.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has acknowledged the possibility of a national ban on abortion if Republicans seize the majority in Congress and if the Supreme Court rules to overturn Roe v. Wade.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Rutgers-Newark NJ rally supports Senate abortion rights bill