Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will not change abortion access in NJ

·8 min read

The U.S. Supreme Court decision Friday that allows states to set their own laws about limits on abortion is expected to change nothing in New Jersey, a state with some of the strongest abortion protections in the nation.

Residents of New Jersey have the right to an abortion with no mandatory waiting periods, no parental notification rules and no limits on the gestational age of the fetus. There are no bans on state funding through Medicaid or other insurance programs.

This guarantee of a “fundamental right to reproductive autonomy” was affirmed by the Legislature earlier this year in anticipation that the federal right to abortion secured nearly 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade would be upended by the current Supreme Court, as it was with Friday's decision. New Jersey's Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Jan. 13, passed with the votes of 23 of the Senate’s 24 Democrats and 46 of the Assembly’s 52 Democrats — and no Republican votes.

Live Updates: Scenes from New Jersey after Supreme Court strikes down Roe vs. Wade

With the availability of abortion services at more than 75 sites, New Jersey is expected to become a “safe haven” for those seeking the procedure from more restrictive states. Twenty-six states, mostly in the South and Midwest, are considered certain or likely to ban abortion following the decision, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that advocates for abortion rights.

(From left) Randy and Rachel (would not give last names) pray as they protest in front of The Englewood Center For Women on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Right) Robert (would not give last name) holds a sign.
(From left) Randy and Rachel (would not give last names) pray as they protest in front of The Englewood Center For Women on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Right) Robert (would not give last name) holds a sign.

But New Jersey’s geographic distance from those states — and the lack of state-allocated funds to subsidize out-of-state residents’ abortion care — may keep the number of such patients relatively small. In California, for example, Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed $40 million in state funding for uncompensated abortion care.

However, that welcome mat also is expected to lead to more protests in New Jersey, as groups opposed to abortion shift their focus to states where abortions are still performed. Protesters show up every Saturday outside Metropolitan Medical Associates in Englewood, one of the oldest abortion providers in the state, for example. A legal challenge to the city’s 2014 ordinance requiring an 8-foot buffer zone outside the center is pending in federal court.

More: Abortion providers in NJ worry they will face more protests after Supreme Court ruling

In 2019, more than 1,300 out-of-state residents received abortions in New Jersey, according to the latest data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A handful of pregnant people from Texas have already traveled to New Jersey to terminate their pregnancies following the prohibition on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy that began in that state last September, according to abortion providers. Another 57 people from Pennsylvania were helped last year to pay for abortion services through the New Jersey Abortion Access Fund, a donor-supported nonprofit organization.

Residents at Arbor Terrace Teaneck held a rally for reproductive rights and womenÕs health in Teaneck, N.J. on Friday May 13, 2022. Former New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg lead the demonstration as grandmothers and great-grandmothers held up signs and voiced their opinions on abortion.
Residents at Arbor Terrace Teaneck held a rally for reproductive rights and womenÕs health in Teaneck, N.J. on Friday May 13, 2022. Former New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg lead the demonstration as grandmothers and great-grandmothers held up signs and voiced their opinions on abortion.

The number of Pennsylvania residents seeking abortions in New Jersey would be expected to climb significantly if Pennsylvania enacts stricter abortion limits after the Supreme Court's decision.

More: In a post-Roe era, the internet could help or hurt women seeking abortions. Here's how.

“We don’t know what exactly is going to happen in Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Kristyn Brandi, national board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health and a physician providing abortion services in New Jersey. "We'll see a lot more people coming over our borders if Pennsylvania changes.”

Currently, Pennsylvania requires pre-abortion counseling, a 24-hour waiting period, and parental consent for minors having abortions. The state also limits public funding of abortions.

NJ prepares for influx of patients

Medication abortions — which are considered safe and effective up to 10 weeks past the last menstrual period — account for the majority of abortions in New Jersey and the nation. Surgical abortions are performed in New Jersey at 10 to 15 clinics and many hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers.

While those providers have been sufficient to meet the demand for services so far, “I don’t know if we would have capacity if we were to take an influx of a lot of people from a lot of places,” said Brandi.

To prepare, the state last year changed its regulations to make it possible for some licensed medical professionals besides physicians to perform abortions. These include advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives and certified midwives — nearly 17,000 providers who could choose to be trained in abortion procedures.

More: How NJ groups will support abortion rights following the overturning of Roe v. Wade

These professionals would add vacuum aspiration abortions to the range of reproductive health services they offer in clinic and office settings. That would be a significant addition to the current availability of services, said Brandi. While it's new to have non-physicians provide abortions in New Jersey, she added, “it’s not new in other states that have been doing this for a while, with no diminution in safety.”

Rutgers University, with one of the largest schools for health professionals, is ready to train midwives and advance practice nurses currently in degree programs, said Dr. Julie Blumenfeld, director of the nurse midwifery program and an assistant professor in the advance practice division of the School of Nursing. “The training will be part of the curriculum in both didactic and practical classes this fall.”

Compared to giving birth, she said, abortion is a “low-risk procedure,” with a lower risk of complications. For those professionals, providing abortion services “is a normal part of the full spectrum of reproductive health care,” she said. Those studying to be physician assistants will also have the opportunity during their clinical rotations to observe and learn the procedure, the director of that program said.

Planned Parenthood has already begun work to expand its roster of abortion providers. “We have advanced practice clinicians who are already training,” said Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, vice president for public affairs of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in New Jersey. “We have been preparing for a long time.”

Planned Parenthood has 20 facilities that provide medication abortions, or abortion pills, in New Jersey. In-clinic surgical abortions are also available at two sites, in Trenton and Shrewsbury, she said.

How many abortions in NJ?

A state study by the Guttmacher Institute published in February reported that 44% of pregnancies in New Jersey were unwanted or wanted later. Two-thirds of women who could become pregnant used contraceptives, it said.

The New Jersey abortion rate in 2020 was 29.2 per 1,000 women of child-bearing age — double the national rate and the second highest in the nation, after the District of Columbia, according to the institute. Nationally, about one in five pregnancies ended in abortion in 2020.

After a 30-year decline in abortion rates, the United States as a whole saw the number of abortions increase  by 8% from 2017 to 2020.  New Jersey held relatively steady during that period — the number of procedures climbed by 1% in the Garden State, according to Guttmacher. It rose from 48,110 in 2017 to 48,830 in 2020, according to the institute.

But the institute counts only abortions overseen or performed by clinicians. It does not include “self-managed abortions” outside a doctor’s office with prescribed medications.

New Jersey also allows "telehealth abortion," or consultation by computer or phone with a physician, who then writes a prescription for abortion pills that can be mailed to the patient's home. This is known by some as "Plan C." 

Pregnant people in their 20s accounted for the highest number of abortions at hospitals and surgical centers in the state — 55%, according to the CDC's 2019 data, while those 19 or younger accounted for fewer than 10%.

The same data showed that 38% of the abortions reported in New Jersey were performed on Black patients, 27% on whites, and 18% on Hispanics. The disproportionate share of abortions among people of color, which is also true nationally, reflects a higher rate of unintended pregnancies, stemming from lack of access to and consistent use of effective contraception, research has shown.

The vast majority of abortions were performed during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Murphy wants to expand abortion protections

While New Jersey is one of 16 states to explicitly protect abortion rights by law throughout pregnancy, Murphy this month proposed additional steps to expand access and protect abortion providers.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announces his plans to renew his push to make abortions free in New Jersey, a proposal that failed last year, and to start a "health access fund"  for abortion training and security in an effort to make New Jersey a sanctuary for reproductive care, during a press conference held at the Office of the Governor in Trenton, NJ on Wednesday, May 11, 2022.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announces his plans to renew his push to make abortions free in New Jersey, a proposal that failed last year, and to start a "health access fund" for abortion training and security in an effort to make New Jersey a sanctuary for reproductive care, during a press conference held at the Office of the Governor in Trenton, NJ on Wednesday, May 11, 2022.

Those provisions, endorsed by Planned Parenthood, are considered unlikely to pass the New Jersey Legislature. Even with a Democratic majority, some parts of the recently enacted Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act had to be jettisoned before it passed earlier this year. Now the Legislature's Democratic majority, which generally backs abortion rights, is smaller. Whether some provisions could be passed individually remains to be seen.

The draft bill, A-4350, includes a requirement that insurers cover abortions without any out-of-pocket expenses for the patient. They would also ban New Jersey prosecutors from cooperating with interstate investigations or requests for extradition of New Jersey abortion providers or their patients. And the measure would set aside $5 million for training, $5 million for security, and $10 million to modernize and expand abortion facilities.

Opponents of abortion say Murphy's proposal does not reflect the will of the voters, and object to the use of taxpayer funds to help abortion providers. "This is a bill that he is trying to push to further his presidential ambitions," said Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life.

Citing the work of crisis pregnancy centers that steer pregnant women away from abortions, she said, "The pro-life movement will redouble our efforts to help women in crisis pregnancies so they can choose life."

Lindy Washburn is a senior health care reporter for NorthJersey.com. To keep up-to-date about how changes in health care affect you and your family, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: washburn@northjersey.com 

Twitter: @lindywa 

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Abortion will remain legal in New Jersey despite Supreme Court ruling