New Jersey Democrats Set to Enter Abortion in 2023 Ballot

At least one Democratic lawmaker, as well as abortion rights advocates, disagree on the need for a constitutional amendment.

Although legislative leaders have not made a final decision, they will likely vote by the end of the year to send voters the ballot question, one of the amendment’s potential sponsors has confirmed.

“We lean towards doing it. But we’re just talking to all the stakeholders right now to make sure the time is right,” Assemblywoman Lisa Swain (D-Bergen) said in a phone interview. Swain said she plans to be the lead sponsor of the lower house amendment.

In a later statement, Swain added, “People in New Jersey and across the country want to protect reproductive health and birth control rights. We are still engaged in discussions with the Governor, Senate and advocates on how best to achieve this. It is imperative that whatever we do, we protect the freedoms now enjoyed by the people of New Jersey. »

A source with knowledge of the Senate negotiations said the upper house is also likely to propose the bill and Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) would be the lead sponsor. Ruiz did not respond to a phone call seeking comment on Tuesday.

Richard McGrath, spokesman for Senate Democrats, said in a statement that a constitutional amendment was being discussed.

« We’ve been at the forefront on the issue of women’s reproductive rights and we believe it’s important to the people of New Jersey, » he said. “The consecration of these rights by a constitutional amendment so that they are fully protected is being discussed by the leaders. As we saw with the election results, this is a concern shared by people in New Jersey and across the country.

To bring the ballot issue to a vote in the Legislative Assembly, it must first sit on lawmakers’ desks for 20 calendar days and will likely need to be voted on by the end of the year.

There are two ways to get the question on the ballot next year. Under one scenario, both houses of the Democratic-controlled Legislature could pass it once, either this year or next, with a three-fifths majority. Democrats don’t believe they have the votes to do that.

The other, more realistic option is to adopt it by a simple majority for two consecutive calendar years. It would also give Democrats the option to drop the effort if the political environment changes before the 2023 legislative election.

Abortion rights are unlikely to be threatened in New Jersey anytime soon. New Jersey courts have long protected abortion rights, and in January 2022, Governor Phil Murphy signed the Reproductive Freedom of Choice Act, which enshrined existing case law into law.

Restricting abortion in New Jersey would likely require a Republican legislature, a Republican governor, and a radically changed state Supreme Court.

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) said she opposes a constitutional amendment because « we are fully protected by law and controlling case law. »

In a statement, Jasey cited a bill she is sponsoring, the Reproductive Equity Act,” which has Murphy’s support but has stalled in the Legislative Assembly.

« The overarching issue is access, which will only be guaranteed through the passage of the Reproductive Equity Act, » she said.

Some abortion-rights supporters say that, given the protections already in place in New Jersey, putting the issue on the ballot is not only unnecessary, but can energize anti-abortion groups.

« While many states risked losing the right to abortion following the Dobbs decision, that was not true in New Jersey because abortion is already a basic constitutional right in the state,” Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, said in a statement. “We are grateful to live in a state with such strong legal protections, but New Jersey’s immediate need is to ensure that anyone who needs an abortion can get one. Legislators must prioritize expanding access.


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