ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that upheld the constitutional right to abortion. In general, this decision was met with support from Republicans and outcry from Democrats. Those who support the decision say that this new ruling will save unborn children’s lives, while those who oppose it argue that the decision will endanger many expectant mothers, as well as take away bodily autonomy.
In New Jersey, which is predominantly Democratic, abortion remains legal. Anticipating the Supreme Court’s decision, Gov. Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Legislature enacted a law that preserves the legal right for individuals to obtain an abortion in New Jersey. This is not the case for many others states in the union, however, and some of those states have already seen restrictions on abortion go into place.
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a devastating setback for women’s rights and the rule of law in our country,” acting N.J. Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said in a June 24 statement. “For five decades, the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized the fundamental right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy. Today, however, a bare, right-wing majority cast aside decades of settled law. Their decision is as dangerous as it is wrong. The court’s legally indefensible ruling will inflict harm on millions who will wake up tomorrow without meaningful access to legal abortion care — inevitably forcing these procedures into the shadows, where they will be unregulated and unsafe.
“But make no mistake: Abortion still remains legal in New Jersey. The Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, signed into law by Gov. Murphy earlier this year, protects the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy in New Jersey. That remains just as true now as it did before the Supreme Court’s decision,” he continued. “Today is a dark day for our country. But the fight to protect abortion rights is far from over, and New Jersey stands ready to lead the fight. We will continue to use every available resource to protect access to abortion care for New Jersey residents and others who seek to obtain care in this state.”
As abortion becomes illegal in various states following this ruling, it is expected that those seeking abortions may travel to other states, such as New Jersey, where it is still legal. The other option, reproductive rights advocates say, is unsafe back-alley abortions.
Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. called June 24 “a tragic day in America.”
“The Supreme Court has decided that women do not have the right to determine their reproductive health care choices and that state legislatures should have control over women’s bodies. Clearly, Supreme Court decisions are no longer based on the Constitution, nor on legal precedent. Instead, this is another horrible example of a court that represents the radical right-wing agenda of the modern Republican Party,” Payne said. “These policies are rejected by the overwhelming majority of Americans. Yet, the Republican Party and radical right are determined to increase their power and eliminate the rights Americans have fought to gain for decades. Now, women across the country could return to a dark past when access to a safe abortion procedure was difficult or impossible.”
Payne called for the U.S. Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would guarantee women the legal right to their own reproductive health choices, including abortions.
New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chairperson LeRoy J. Jones Jr. and Vice Chairperson Peg Schaffer called the court’s decision “an unprecedented assault on women and their right to control their own bodies and make decisions about their own health care,” saying this move “once again proves Republicans’ utter contempt for women in this country.”
“The Republican Party and its agents on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, weakened gun safety laws that are proven to keep communities safe, and have now destroyed 50 years of legal precedent in overturning Roe — all in the service of forcing their extreme conservative agenda on an American public that absolutely does not support it,” the NJDSC leaders said in a joint statement. “While we can be thankful that the right to an abortion was codified into New Jersey state law last year by Gov. Murphy and the Democratic-majority state Legislature, millions of women across the country will now face a far different reality. We must collectively rise up against this tide of radical conservatism and vote to defeat every single enabler of this destructive agenda.”
In addition to opposing this most recent decision, Jones and Schaffer also expressed concern for the direction in which the United States is moving.
“Let’s be clear – this is not just about Roe v. Wade. This is about Republicans seeking to create a Christian theocracy at all levels of government and upending our democracy,” they said. “Justice (Clarence) Thomas proved that in his concurring opinion, where he disgustingly signaled that rulings protecting same-sex relationships, same-sex marriage and the right to contraception should be next on the court’s chopping block.
Of course, not everyone in New Jersey disagrees with the court’s decision.
“The United States Supreme Court has reversed the flawed logic of Roe v. Wade and reasserted the democratic principle that elected state legislatures and the communities they represent should have the opportunity to make their own decisions on abortion without the mandates of an overbearing unelected federal judiciary,” state Senate Minority Leader Steven Oroho said. “I believe in the sanctity of life. I also believe in medical science. Looking at the laws governing abortion in New Jersey, I believe we should follow the most up-to-date science when determining viability and legislate accordingly. I call on my colleagues from both parties to begin a bipartisan discussion on reforming New Jersey’s laws.”
But across the aisle in the state Senate, Democrats are dismayed by the court’s decision.
“There are no words that can capture the profound depth of sadness, disappointment and betrayal that women throughout our country feel today. We cannot and will not go back on a woman’s right to choose, and we remain deeply concerned with how this ruling may signal the further erosion of rights related to access to contraceptives and gay marriage,” read a June 24 joint statement from Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz, Senate President Pro Tempore Sandra B. Cunningham and Senate Majority Caucus Chairperson Nellie Pou. “In one decision, the Supreme Court has put the health and lives of our daughters, sisters and mothers in jeopardy. New Jersey already put strong protections in place ahead of this decision, and we will take all the necessary steps to safeguard providers and preserve the right to choose here in the state. Everyone deserves the right to access reproductive health care, whether that is in the form of birth control, IVF or abortion. We will continue to fight for the fundamental human right of bodily autonomy for all women.”
In the state Assembly, the Republican-Democrat division is equally stark. Assemblywoman Mila Jasey lamented the court’s decision in a June 24 statement.
“The day we have awaited with dread has arrived. Roe v. Wade, the cornerstone of our fundamental rights to privacy, autonomy over our bodies and reproductive choice is no more,” Jasey said. “I have spent more than 50 years fighting for a woman’s right to choose. I will not stand idly by while illegal, back-alley abortions destroy women’s lives. We have earned this right, and we will not let it be taken from us.”
In Essex County, which is controlled by Democrats at the county level, leaders were equally outspoken.
“The Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade erased 50 years of social justice and opens the door for more of our freedoms to be taken away,” Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said. “This sets our country on a perilous path that we cannot afford to follow. We need to preserve the rights to which all free people are entitled and work to rebuild fairness, respect and peace.”
“On behalf of the Essex County Board of Commissioners, I am compelled to express our collective dismay regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. 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,” Essex County Board of County Commissioners President Wayne L. Richardson said. “We pledge to our constituents that our board as constituted will continue to support a woman’s right to choose. We are fully behind Gov. Murphy — and the majority of our representatives in the New Jersey state Legislature — and applaud their efforts in passing and signing into law the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, which ensures New Jersey will remain a state where the reproductive rights of women are protected.”
“In their unconscionable decision to overturn Roe V. Wade, the conservative majority on the court revealed itself to be a complicit partner in the Republicans’ long and well-orchestrated campaign to reverse nearly a century of progress on civil rights, voting rights and equality, and deprive women, people of color and our LGBTQ-plus community of their basic human rights and protections against discrimination and violence,” Commissioner Brendan Gill said. “We tend to think about this Republican campaign as an effort to roll back the clock or return to the past, but it is all about the concentration of power in the future. In a country that refuses to provide affordable child care or health care or address issues such as poverty or affordable housing in a meaningful way, there is no more effective way to disempower women than to remove their reproductive autonomy.”
Several area mayors have also spoken in support of the right to abortion.
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which had been upheld for nearly half a century, is deeply disturbing and an abomination toward womankind and society as a whole,” East Orange Mayor Ted R. Green said. “In communities where people of color and marginalized groups suffer maternal mortality rates disproportionately, this is a devastating blow to their constitutional rights and will increase health risks exponentially, yielding poor physical, psychological and financial outcomes. This decision is absolutely unacceptable on the highest of levels. Our women are the backbone of our communities, and the choice for reproduction should always lie with (them) and not in the hands of the law.
“Reproductive choice is a fundamental right, and the court’s decision — in one fateful moment — rolls back years of human justice,” he continued. “For the millions of American women in nearly half the states across the nation who will be directly impacted, we empathize with you. In no true democracy should access to abortion depend on where someone lives.”
Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka also addressed how this ruling will affect women of color.
“The repulsive Supreme Court decision today to overturn Roe v. Wade, the ruling establishing the right to an abortion, has set us back decades,” Baraka said. “This ruling attacks women’s most basic right: to have control over their own bodies, regardless of politics or what state they live in. Their liberty and power to decide for themselves has been stripped away. It will also lead to the criminalization of those who are marginalized — particularly women of color.”
Baraka called for residents to become involved with organizations “that are fighting for choice” and to vote accordingly.
“Democracy succeeds only when people take action and make their voices heard,” Baraka said.
Action was taken in South Orange on June 24 when advocates and leaders from across Essex County and beyond attended a rally to protest the reversal of Roe v. Wade.
“Hell hath no fury like a woman who has been made a second-class citizen,” South Orange Village President Sheena Collum said. “Early today I was incredibly sad, fearful for the future and helpless. Tonight, I’m feeling motivated, strong, empowered, loved and ready to get to work. Thank you to all our community members locally along with progressive leaders and organizations around New Jersey who showed up tonight. Not a day goes by (that) I don’t cherish how special our South Orange and Maplewood communities are.”
“We won’t go back, we will fight back,” Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis said. “And, this time around, when we win reproductive freedom and universal access to health care, it will apply to all women! Inspiring rally tonight!”
“I, like so many of you, am outraged by today’s Supreme Court decision. Thankfully we live in a state which has already taken — and will continue to take — the necessary actions to ensure women have full autonomy over their own bodies,” Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia said. “Coupled with Clarence Thomas’ comments today, we must ensure our rights — all rights — are protected. Remember that elections have consequences. We must ensure we don’t take steps backwards.”
According to some, this issue comes down to “dignity and respect.”
“The Court wiped out 50 years of precedent and the ability of people who will become pregnant to make decisions for themselves and their futures. It is cruel, harmful and shameful,” the leadership of the National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County chapter, said in a statement. “Every person deserves dignity and respect and the ability to make decisions about their own bodies. Forced pregnancy endangers the lives and well-being of people who will no longer have access to the care they need without having to travel hundreds of miles and pay hundreds or thousands of dollars. The injustice and cruelty of this decision harms those who are already facing barriers to accessing health care, particularly (those who are) black, indigenous and people of color; immigrants; and those working to make ends meet.
“By overturning Roe, the court has codified one religion into law — a violation of the founding principles of this country — and opened the door to anti-abortion lawmakers across the United States to keep pushing for more brutal abortion bans that disregard the human rights and bodily autonomy of millions of people,” the statement continued, encouraging New Jersey legislators to pass Bill A4350, which would ensure that insurance plans in New Jersey cover abortion and birth control; codify the state Board of Medical Examiners expansion of medical professionals who can provide abortion care; and expand existing state programs that cover birth control and pregnancy-related care to also cover abortion care for those facing financial barriers.
While some religious organizations and leaders are calling for increased protection and support for those seeking abortions, others are celebrating the court’s decision.
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, archbishop of Newark, said the court’s decision “recognizes that even the most helpless and dependent human beings have a right to life and possess inherent dignity and worth.
“The Catholic Church teaches that all human life is sacred, from conception to natural death. We must oppose the many threats to human life and dignity evident in contemporary society, including abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and capital punishment,” Tobin said. “Abortion represents a failure to recognize the sanctity of human life and promotes a culture in which human life in its most vulnerable moment is perceived as disposable. It is telling that, in the public debate, the unborn child frequently disappears from the moral calculus.
“Furthermore, abortion is not health care. It is a disastrous attempt to create a false equivalency between the taking of innocent human life and the ‘reproductive health’ of women in our society. It results in inhuman and lethal consequences,” Tobin said. “We recognize that a woman’s decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful. A woman who takes this desperate action is often under great duress and is encouraged by social structures that are patently sinful. As people who care deeply for all women struggling with unplanned or unwanted pregnancies, we must ensure that life-giving options are available and our support does not end simply with the birth of a child.”
To learn more about the legality of abortion state-by-state, visit the Planned Parenthood website at https://tinyurl.com/yc2j5bnx. Those looking to take action may visit a Planned Parenthood webpage at https://tinyurl.com/42bw66ns.
Photos of June 24 rally in South Orange are courtesy of Shelley Brindle.