By Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, Commissioner William O’Dea, City Councilwoman Mira Prinz Arey, Amy Albert, Lori Frowirth, Katie Brennan, Rebecca Symes, Carmen Russell
Like most of the country, we were horrified, but not at all surprised, by the release of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson last week. Simply put, this decision has turned our country backward to an era where people risked death rather than bring a pregnancy to term, where people who were raped were forced to bear their rapist’s children, and where people lost economic opportunities because of pregnancies that happened at the wrong time. It is a time we in New Jersey still remember. Prior to Roe, women who couldn’t find their way into New York resorted to hangers. Although self-managed abortion is safer now than it was then, people need the option of legal abortion.
No, we weren’t surprised because anti-abortion advocates had been telling us for years that this was their goal. They put in place a comprehensive strategy to change the Supreme Court and diminish the civil rights of more than half of the country. It is time for our own comprehensive strategy, rooted, as the Supreme Court intimated, in our right to vote.
We are fortunate that here in New Jersey, the legislature and Governor Murphy had the forethought to legislate a statewide right to abortion. However, as lawyers, city and county officials, and other professionals, we see another glaring omission in our fundamental rights exposed by the overturning of Roe the Court made clear, it does not believe the Constitution grants us a right to privacy. This leaves vulnerable all the rights the Court previously said flowed from that right: a right to medical and bodily autonomy, a right to choose who we love, a right to choose what doctors do to our bodies.
It threatens the right to birth control, to inter-racial marriage, to be openly LGBTQIA+ identified, to choose gender affirming medical care.
If we vote for an amendment to the New Jersey Constitution granting the right to privacy, we enshrine our right to make these choices and we create a pathway to restoring those rights for those in states that no longer allow abortion. The federal marriage decision was based on a strategy that some people in some states had more rights than in others, namely the right to marry those who they wanted. If we pass a constitutional amendment, the same can be argued for the right to privacy.
The decision in Dobbs gave the states the authority and the responsibility of determining our fates. “The permissibility of abortion, and the limitations, upon it, are to be resolved like most important questions in our democracy: by citizens trying to persuade one another and then voting,” the decision declares.
Well, if it is up to the states, we should now be developing a comprehensive strategy and racing to the forefront of this necessary movement and propelling New Jersey as a leader among states. The reality is that, if the Supreme Court has abdicated its responsibility as a protector of individual rights, forcing that responsibility upon the voters of individual states, then we must show how those voters can protect their own rights.
Other states like New York have made early efforts to legislate the right to choose through equal protection. These have failed in part because they categorize the issue as being based on equal rights for a specific group. In fact, the issue is that the Supreme Court has failed to protect all of our rights to privacy.
We can vote for a constitutional right to privacy and show how other states can – and should – protect the right to choose by showing it is fundamentally connected to a right to privacy – a right that we should have to begin with. We can vote for laws that will protect those who choose to get abortions in New Jersey and those who provide them. By enshrining this right in our own laws, we can protect access because it will codify the fact that it’s no one’s business what a woman or anyone else does with their body. By doing this we can create national change.
We can use our vote and our voices in other ways too:
- to support the legislators at our state and local levels who are working to create sanctuary city and state legislation – providing safety for those who come to us for abortions and the doctors who care for them
- to bolster abortion access by increasing the number of clinics in New Jersey
- to increase pharmacy access to medical abortion, for Plan B and other options
We are asking you to join with us to act. Now. To create a comprehensive strategy to take our bodies back.