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NEW YORK – New Jersey bishops expressed “profound disappointment and deep concern” about the passage of a bill on Jan. 12 that codifies the right to an abortion in the state, saying it “forthrightly extinguishes the human and moral identity of the unborn child.”
“We have failed as a society when a response to any pregnancy is fear rather than joy,” the seven New Jersey prelates said in a joint statement. “Sadly, too often this fear is born out of the mother’s uncertainty that she will not be able to provide for herself and her child the resources necessary to live a flourishing life.”
“We must do better,” the statement continued. “Therefore, we urge all Catholics and people of good will to actively participate in breaking down the economic, employment, social, racial, and emotional barriers that lead mothers into thinking abortion is a better option than life.”
New Jersey lawmakers voted to pass the bill, the “Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act,” on Jan. 10. It went onto Governor Phil Murphy’s desk. A day later, Murphy expressed his intent to sign the bill into law on social media.
“I thank the Legislature for passing and sending to my desk a bill that will secure a woman’s access to reproductive care and her right to choose into state law,” Murphy posted. “I will sign this into law this week. These decisions must be kept between a woman and her doctor, period.”
Specifically, the bill codifies reproductive autonomy, which includes the right to contraception, abortion and carrying a pregnancy to term. It places no limit on when someone can get an abortion, thus the procedure will be legal throughout a pregnancy.
Once Murphy signs the legislation New Jersey will join Oregon and Vermont as the only three states with laws that protect abortion rights throughout a pregnancy, along with Washington D.C. Laws in 12 other states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island and Washington – protect abortion rights prior to viability, at around 24 weeks.
The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that states cannot restrict abortion access before viability. At the start of December, the nation’s high court took up a case that deals with the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi law, the “Gestational Age Act,” that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The case has the potential to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
In a Jan. 10 social media post, Murphy said the threat of Roe v. Wade being overturned makes “the need for this bill more urgent than ever.”
The bill passed the Assembly with 46 votes and the Senate with 23 votes. The chambers have 80 and 40 members respectively. New Jersey lawmakers claim in the text of the bill that it’s needed because reproductive choice is key to establishing equality among genders, an unplanned pregnancy can disrupt education and career plans, and the right to choose whether and when to have children allows for more effective life planning that’s compatible with someone’s life goals.
The seven bishops of New Jersey are Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, Bishop Kevin Sweeney of Paterson, Bishop David O’Connell of Trenton, Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen, Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden, Bishop Kurt Burnette of the Eparchy of Passaic, and Bishop Yousif Habash of Our Lady of Deliverance of Syriac Catholic Diocese.
The prelates charge that the New Jersey lawmakers who voted for the bill “rushed through this Act in the waning moments of their terms” because they “did not want citizens to understand fully its inhuman and lethal consequences.”
They also re-emphasized the Church’s commitment to helping pregnant women.
“The Catholic Church is committed to broadening and increasing awareness about the abundant resources and programs we offer that include life-affirming health and prenatal care, emotional support, assistance in bearing and raising her child, and basic needs such as housing, food, and clothing to pregnant mothers seeking or considering alternatives to abortion,” the bishops’ said.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg