By New Jersey Sen. Loretta Weinberg
The resistance is alive in the Garden State. Just a few weeks into 2018, we in New Jersey are already reversing eight years of setbacks to reproductive rights and health that former Gov. Chris Christie so outrageously spearheaded. New Jersey was one of two states, along with Washington, that saw a return to full Democratic governance last November, and we’re working hard to deliver results for voters.
Eight years ago, New Jersey’s reproductive health safety net was decimated as then-Governor Christie eliminated the $7.45 million family planning budget. That decision forced six health care clinics to close their doors, and since then, the number of cases of bacterial sexually transmitted diseases increased 35 percent statewide. In half of New Jersey counties the STI rate increased by nearly 50 percent or higher. Breast and cervical cancer cases increased 5.2 percent, disproportionately impacting women of color.
None of this mattered to Chris Christie for eight years. But it mattered to me. And it mattered to the 455,000 women in need of publicly supported contraception in our state.
My colleagues and I fought every year to reinstate these necessary funds – a tiny portion (a fraction of a percent) of our state’s overall budget – only to see Governor Christie’s veto pen eliminate the money we added for critical health care services that so many New Jerseyans relied on. It is infuriating to know how much his actions harmed women and families across the state.
A lot has changed, especially in the past year. We now see millions of women marching in the streets, from D.C. to Des Moines, not just once and not just as a one-off. We have a record number of women running for office nationwide, scores of women contacting their members of Congress, and of course, a new administration in Trenton committed to women’s health and public health.
This energy and excitement will, and must, help put an end to the years-long avalanche of attacks on reproductive rights from conservative state legislators around the country. The slashing of reproductive health access in New Jersey did not happen in a vacuum. Nationwide, more than 400 restrictions on reproductive rights have been enacted in states since 2011, after a wave of conservative lawmakers took office.
State legislators in every region have passed new laws that try to take us backward by decimating family planning and sex education resources, denying and delaying critical health care, and making it ever more difficult for women to have healthy pregnancies and raise families safely and with dignity. Low-income people and people of color bear the brunt of these devastating policies. We have seen it firsthand in New Jersey, but we certainly aren’t alone.
It is equally outrageous that this happens in other states, like Mississippi, where only one abortion provider is left to serve the whole state, or Utah, where lawmakers force patients to wait at least 72 hours and make two trips to clinics before receiving care. States have served as anti-woman testing grounds for years, and now Congress is seizing the opportunity to enact their own versions of these draconian laws or use them as a political football.
Meanwhile, these efforts have trickled upward into the Trump administration. Trump has planted anti-women’s health extremists throughout its agencies. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is led by veterans of the anti-abortion, anti-birth control movement. And shockingly, even the Office of Refugee Resettlement has interfered with a sexual assault survivor’s ability to access the abortion care she needed, simply because she is undocumented.
Anyone who cares about women and women’s health has work to do, locally and nationally. The good news is: It’s a new day in New Jersey. Together, we can reverse the damage of the last eight years and move forward with a commitment to women’s health and rights. Each day I serve in the New Jersey legislature is a chance for me to help build a better future for our state. This year, instead of encountering roadblocks to our efforts support women’s rights, reproductive rights and women’s health, New Jersey will instead advance meaningful solutions to the health care needs, economic inequalities, and other challenges our constituents face, and see these initiatives signed into law. It’s what women in New Jersey – and everywhere – deserve.
Loretta Weinberg is the State Senate Majority Leader in New Jersey, where she represents Bergen County. Sen. Weinberg has served in the New Jersey legislature since 1992.