After the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a Texas law that tightened restrictions on abortions, North Jersey Democrats vowed to redouble efforts to ensure the nearly a half century of precedent allowing a woman’s right to choose is not overturned or hindered.
“One of the most extreme abortion bans in the country has gone into effect in Texas. Now more than ever, we must all fight back against these kinds of harmful bans and stand in support of reproductive freedom in Texas and all across the country,” Sen. Bob Menendez tweeted after the Supreme Court’s decision on Sept 1. “Let me be clear: this SCOTUS decision is not an invitation for more states to launch radical attacks on women’s rights.”
The highest court in the nation ruled 5-4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s three liberal members—Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan— as each wrote their own dissent. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett formed the majority opinion without offering comment.
The Texas law, which took effect Sept. 1, dictates that a physician can’t knowingly perform an abortion if there is “a detectable fetal heartbeat,” which includes embryonic cardiac activity that appears about six weeks into a pregnancy. The Texas Heartbeat Act, known as SB 8, provides an exception for medical emergencies but not for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
Additionally, lawmakers assigned enforcement to private parties, giving them an incentive by authorizing damages of $10,000 or more if they successfully sued a defendant they accused of performing or aiding an abortion.
“Complete strangers will now be empowered to inject themselves in the most private and personal health decisions faced by women,” said President Joe Biden days after he ruling. “And it not only empowers complete strangers to inject themselves into the most private of decisions made by a woman—it actually incentivizes them to do so with the prospect of $10,000 if they win their case.”
The bill has become a template for other states looking to make their abortion laws tighter. Republican officials in Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, and South Dakota have already suggested they’re going to do what they can to copy the Texas legislation while Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Ohio are expected to do the same, according to the Washington Post.
Sen. Cory Booker characterized the Texas law as “shameful” and “unconstitutional,” an attempt to set back reproductive rights by decades.
“We must defend Roe v. Wade and stop this dangerous ban,” said Booker. “The Supreme Court has abdicated its duty to uphold long standing precedent and allowed a flagrantly unconstitutional law to stand. We cannot stand by as the Court undermines our constitutional rights—we must defend Roe and protect reproductive rights.”
The role of the court drew the ire of two North Jersey house members: Bill Pascrell, Jr. and Josh Gottheimer.
In the Midnight Hour
“While America was sleeping, in the dead of last night, the Supreme Court for all intents and purposes overruled Roe v. Wade. In one cowardly, silent action the right wing justices took a hacksaw to 48 years of precedent,” said Pascrell. “A handful of unelected judges, several of whom occupy seats stolen by Mitch McConnell, have no right to impose their radical agenda on hundreds of millions of Americans.”
Gottheimer noted that the Supreme Court majority ruling just before midnight lacked a written statement or opinion, claiming the conservative justices prefered to hide their actions in hopes the American public wouldn’t notice.
“We noticed. For decades Republicans have packed the courts with political operatives to impose by fiat policies they can’t win at the ballot box,” said Gottheimer. “This action by the Roberts Court is a culmination of their sinister efforts. Their end goal is punishing women for controlling their own bodies and doctors for practicing medicine. All Americans must know what’s at stake. This must not stand.”
The U.S. Justice Department has gone to court twice to prevent Texas from enforcing a law that prohibits nearly all abortions. The Justice Department argued in its emergency motion for a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction that would prevent enforcement of the law. that SB8 would “prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights.”
“It is settled constitutional law that ‘a state may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,’” the department said in the lawsuit. “But Texas has done just that…This relief is necessary to protect the constitutional rights of women in Texas and the sovereign interest of the United States.”
In anticipation of the ruling, Menendez and Booker joined a group of Senate colleagues in June in introducing the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), bicameral legislation to guarantee equal access to abortion across the nation.
WHPA guarantees a pregnant woman’s right to access an abortion—and the right of an abortion provider to deliver these abortion services—free from medically unnecessary restrictions that interfere with a patient’s individual choice or the provider-patient relationship.
“The repeated attacks on abortion and reproductive health care are an assault to the fundamental idea that a person’s right to make their own medical decisions is an immutable, constitutional right,” added Booker.
Pro-life advocates have worked for years at the state-level to pass laws meant to undermine or eliminate access to abortion care. In the last decade, state lawmakers have pushed through nearly 500 restrictive laws that make abortion difficult and, sometimes, impossible to access.
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy has backed The Reproductive Freedom Act to protect and expand access to essential reproductive health care services. The proposed legislation would ensure all New Jerseyans have the right to make their own personal health decisions when it comes to birth control and pregnancy-related care, including abortion; makes certain that financial barriers do not prevent anyone from making their own personal health decisions when it comes to birth control and pregnancy-related care; and expands access to birth control and pregnancy-related care by breaking down medically-unnecessary restrictions that right now only serve to block access to care.
“The Texas ban does concern me very much so,“ said Murphy at his press briefing Sept. 1. “It’s what we had anticipated could happen…the fact of the matter is protecting women’s health here, reproductive freedom in our state is built on case law. All of that case law is in turn built on the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade.”
Murphy continued, “If the foundation of that series of case laws is impacted, impaired, taken away, the entire reality in our state falls like a house of cards, which is why we need to, as soon as possible, put this protection into statute. I’m strongly supportive of that and want that to happen sooner than later.”
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