ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — On May 9, residents from across Essex County joined elected officials at Norman Samuels Plaza in Newark for a rally in support of the codification of protection for abortion rights.
The rally came just a couple of days ahead of a scheduled Senate vote on May 11 to advance legislation that would codify into federal law the right to an abortion; the vote failed. Last week, a draft majority opinion from the Supreme Court was leaked; it indicated that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn the landmark 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.
In addition to concerned community members, the rally was attended by New Jersey Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz and Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake. Holding aloft signs at the rally were students from Rutgers University, representatives from Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey, the American Civil Liberties of New Jersey and Garden State Equality.
“Let us be abundantly and unapologetically clear. Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. It is well-established precedent,” Menendez said at the rally. “And if you’re the Supreme Court of the United States, the institution entrusted by the Constitution to interpret laws and rights for every person in this nation, you cannot strike down 49 years of precedent on a whim. Supreme Court justices cannot draft a majority opinion, one that is filled with flawed justifications and racist and sexist assertions, and consider the matter settled. And they most certainly cannot strip the fundamental rights of half the American population without a fight.”
“For decades, Republicans in state legislatures and Congress have proposed draconian abortion bans that seek to control, criminalize and dehumanize Americans’ most personal health decisions,” Booker said at the rally. “With last week’s draft Supreme Court ruling, we are at a decisive moment in the fight to protect abortion rights. At today’s rally, I was proud to join with fellow New Jersey elected officials, activists and students to call for the codification of Roe v. Wade into law so that a fundamental right of Americans is protected from ongoing, coordinated attacks.”
Payne urged the Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act and to abolish the filibuster.
“This absolute tragedy is the direct result of the continued radicalism of the Republican Party and its turn to the far right,” Payne said at the rally. “Now, women across the country are in jeopardy of falling backwards to a dark past when access to a safe abortion procedure was difficult or impossible. I have always been a proud supporter of a woman’s right to choose because I know that we must trust women to make their own health care decisions rather than dictating to them. There is a solution to this urgent problem that must happen now. … The American people are watching, and they are counting on us to act. We must not let them down.”
“As the conservative activist judges of the Supreme Court move to strike down half a century of legal precedent, it is Congress’ responsibility to protect women’s autonomy. I proudly voted to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act in the House last September to ensure women have access to reproductive care without undue restrictions. We rallied here today to call on the Senate to do the same,” Sherrill said at the rally. “Congress works for the people, and the vast majority of Americans know and believe in this constitutional right.”
Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey President and CEO Roslyn Rogers Collins reminded attendees that, although abortion will remain legal in New Jersey, advocates need to fight for women in other states where they might lose their rights.
“We are at a crisis moment for abortion access in this country,” Collins said at the rally. “Today, what seemed to many as almost impossible is almost our reality. But, to be clear: Abortion is still legal in New Jersey and we intend to keep it that way. We must turn outrage into action. … We are furious, and we will fight back.”
For ACLU-NJ advocate Alejandra Sorto, abortion rights are human rights.
“Reproductive freedom is a fundamental human right. Attacks seeking to restrict reproductive health care are rooted in systemic inequities that continue to have a disproportionate impact on black and brown people. In this moment, when abortion rights are under threat nationwide, it’s as important as ever that states take the lead in ensuring that this right is not only protected, but accessible to all regardless of race, gender identity, income level or immigration status,” Sorto said at the rally.
“This moment indicates the end of a federal constitutional right to abortion and signals a radical erosion of much constitutional support underlying the rights many of us enjoy. We must be a strong united front, because this is a battle for our collective lives and freedoms,” said D Belinfanti of Garden State Equality at the rally. “Power is not based on the strength of one but the strength of many. Justice is achieved through the resilience of many who’ve been disenfranchised. Our strength is in creating an equitable society. We must stand strong and united.”
“As an OBGYN, abortion provider and woman, I am incredibly worried about what the future for reproductive health care will look like now after the June SCOTUS ruling. This is not a drill — Roe (v. Wade) is on the brink of being overturned. Regardless of where you live, this ruling impacts all women and people who can become pregnant,” obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Kristyn Brandi, a family planning specialist, said at the rally. “It impacts all reproductive health providers, whose clinical spaces either may be shut down or overrun with people seeking care from other states. No matter what the courts decide: Abortion is safe, normal, essential health care. As a physician, it is my priority to ensure that patients can get the timely, compassionate care that they need and deserve — and that will always include abortion care.”
In addition to the rally, many local officials have released statements decrying SCOTUS’ leaked opinion draft and have called for area residents to remain strong advocates for abortion rights.
“On behalf of the Essex County Board of Commissioners, I am compelled to express our collective dismay regarding the reports of the Supreme Court’s impending decision to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Commissioner President Wayne L. Richardson said in a May 4 statement. “We believe the removal of federal protections with respect to reproductive rights is a mistake. Any health decisions women choose to make with respect to reproductive rights should not be usurped by policies that infringe upon the privacy of women and their doctors.
“If the reports are true, and the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, we pledge to our constituents that our board as constituted will continue to support a woman’s right to choose,” he concluded.
Ruiz described the situation as a “nightmare” that will have far-reaching consequences.
“I went to bed early and woke up in the middle of the night to the news that we could be facing a nightmare. In New Jersey, we prepared for the possibility that Roe v. Wade would be overturned. I am grateful that (state) Sen. Loretta Weinberg championed a bill that I co-sponsored that protects a woman’s right to choose in New Jersey,” Ruiz said in a May 3 statement. “But this isn’t just about us. This is about every woman in America and the future of our daughters. This pending U.S. Supreme Court decision is a step backward on our reproductive freedoms.”
Though she is dismayed to hear that Roe v. Wade may be overturned, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey spoke glowingly of the steps New Jersey has taken to protect women’s reproductive rights.
“It is devastating to see the Supreme Court headed in this direction. Thankfully, here in New Jersey, we took a preemptive step to codify women’s reproductive health rights into state law with the signing of the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act earlier this year. Regardless of what happens at the federal level, New Jersey will remain a place where all women are able to exercise their reproductive rights and make important and highly personal family planning decisions freely,” Jasey said in a May 3 statement. “I am proud to have sponsored legislation that protects the freedom of choice and access to contraceptives for women in New Jersey, but the fact that we are still having this conversation in 2022 is an affront to all women. A woman’s right to make personal health choices should be nonnegotiable. The Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade (approximately) 50 years ago ensured that for all women. The thought that women throughout the country will lose a fundamental right under this new opinion is catastrophic.”
Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka said he was “appalled” by the leaked draft opinion.
“Abortions should be a universal right of all women, regardless of politics or what state they live in, which is why Roe v. Wade should be upheld by the court,” Baraka said in a May 6 statement. “Unwanted and unintended pregnancies can potentially result in an increase in women delaying prenatal care, higher risk of medical complications for mom and baby, mental health issues — often long-term — including postpartum depression. This is harmful as it can lead to the criminalization of those who are marginalized and target those that have less access to financial resources who may seek out abortions in other ways, such as through ‘back alley’ abortions.”
Baraka pointed out that the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country and that making abortion illegal or more inaccessible will only increase that rate, especially for black and brown women.
“We are living in a dangerous time, and we must all stand up and do what is right. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, nearly two dozen states are likely to ban abortions or severely restrict access. Thirteen have ‘trigger laws’ that would ban abortion almost immediately,” Baraka said. “Almost 50 years later, this extreme grasp for power over the bodies and lives of women is repulsive. While Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the draft, we will have to wait for the final opinion. Right now, we must fight and not take the pressure off the Supreme Court to do what is right. We must act at the federal and state levels to protect the rights of all women.”
Like Baraka, East Orange Mayor Ted R. Green said he was “deeply disturbed by the potential overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.”
“Reproductive choice is a fundamental human right, and we can never take it for granted. Within the United States, the maternal mortality rate is significantly higher than other developing countries, with people of color and marginalized groups being negatively impacted at a disproportionate rate,” Green said in a May 9 statement. “Women who are denied abortions face a significantly high risk of pregnancy-related issues. Those risks of unintended, forced pregnancies extend far beyond the delivery of a child and include poor physical, psychological and financial outcomes. As a result, it is believed that imposing legal restrictions on abortion will not lead to fewer abortions but will likely lead to the increase in harm due to the use of unsafe or self-managed practices to accomplish the same end. This is why we believe that all women should have the latitude to make independent decisions about their bodies and care. We also believe that we have an obligation to ensure that we establish and maintain protective policies that support choice.”
Photos of May 9 rally courtesy of Bob Menendez and Planned Parenthood of Metro NJ