Early May saw a succession of abortion bans passing in state after state. Georgia signed a "heartbeat" law, legislation that would ban abortions after about six weeks into a woman's pregnancy, before most women even realize that they are pregnant. Alabama then followed, passing the nation’s most restrictive reproductive healthcare bill that, if allowed to go forward by the courts, would impose criminal penalties on any doctor who performs an abortion, even in the cases of rape and incest. Then in Missouri, the Governor signed one of the most restrictive bans on abortion in the country.
This onslaught of assaults on women's healthcare created a national uproar as people mobilized to fight back against them. In New Jersey, activists came together to talk about the bans and what folks could do to ensure that abortion stayed legal and accessible in their state and beyond.
Though reproductive rights are generally well protected in New Jersey, these protections shouldn't be taken for granted. Under the Chris Christie administration less then 2 years ago, for example, Planned Parenthood was defunded out of 7.45 million dollars, funding that was only restored with the onset of a new administration. Anti-choice bills are also repeatedly introduced in the NJ legislature, with extremist rhetoric spewed by the elected officials who've sponsored them.
Women of Action NJ organized the Ban the Bans meeting at the home of one of their leaders. The room was packed with local women, some of whom shared their own heartfelt stories about choice, and the life and death importance of having access to reproductive health care. The meeting also featured NJ Assemblywomen Lisa Swain, as well as the Co-President of Stanton Strong, a women's empowerment group working on protecting reproductive rights in the state.
One of the issues touched upon at the meeting was the efforts of conservative NJ State Assembly members who've purposefully endorsed and put forth misleading information on women's health in their efforts to push an anti-choice and anti-medical science agenda in the NJ legislature. 18 state legislators put forth a bill in NJ that would criminalize doctors who perform abortions and create a chilling effect on medical professionals that perform this safe and legal medical procedure. These efforts highlight the need to stay vigilant against attacks on women's choice even in states where they seem safe.
States that have the advantage of supporting a women's right to choose can do more to lead the way and take a proactive stance in ensuring that all reproductive health decisions are as accessible as possible to everyone. For example, more states can provide access to late-term abortions, right now only 8 states allow late-term abortion access. And even in more progressive states, pregnancy crisis centers, which, according to Naral Pro-Choice, are "fake health-care clinics that lie to, shame and intentionally mislead women about their reproductive-health-care options to block them from accessing abortion care" outnumber abortion centers. NJ currently has more pregnancy crisis centers than abortion clinics, in fact, some 33% of New Jersey counties had no clinics that provided abortions, and 23% of New Jersey women lived in those counties. There is still much more than can be and should be done to expand access to reproductive justice in this state. On an individual level, folks can focus on organizing around and supporting pro-choice candidates on all levels of government, regardless of what party they came from, as well as ensuring that we are all vigilant of anti-choice efforts, even in states where abortion rights seem protected.
Though the event began with heavy hearts in light of all the attacks against women's choice occurring nationally, the conversation ended up evolving into a proactive discussion about how New Jersey can be stronger when it comes to reproductive rights and be a leader in the movement for more expansive abortion access. We must not only defend access but be ready to expand and champion it. Most Americans regardless of which state they live in, support access to abortion rights, now is not the time to regress back to the dark ages when it comes to women's health.