UPDATE: As the 49th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade approaches on Jan. 22, much is at stake both locally and nationally for the pro-life movement and its efforts to defend the lives of unborn children.

At the state level, the New Jersey Catholic Conference – public policy arm of the state’s Catholic Bishops – learned Jan. 5 of a compromised abortion bill from the State Senate, S49, which would codify the constitutional right to freedom of reproductive choice. The accompanying Assembly version of the bill, A6260, was drafted late Jan. 6.

“NJCC strenuously opposes S49/A6260,” said NJCC executive director James King in a press release. “Today’s proposed legislation differs little from the Reproductive Freedom Act and includes provisions that remove all barriers to abortion services.”

The RFA was a controversial bill introduced in October 2020 that would have expanded abortion services in New Jersey to include late-term abortions, state-funding for abortions, mandating health insurance coverage for abortion services, and allowing for non-physician medical providers to perform abortions, all of which the NJCC vigorously opposed.

The NJCC has called on its Action Alert network of nearly 15,000 individuals to urge their state elected officials to vote “no” on S49/A6260 – legislation which effectively serves as a replacement to the RFA. The bill was introduced and heard in the Senate Health Committee and the Assembly Appropriations Committee Jan. 6. Should the legislation pass the committees, King anticipates it will be posted for a full vote in the Senate and General Assembly on Jan. 10 – the legislative session’s last vote.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., wrote Jan. 5 to legislators representing citizens of the Diocese, urging them in the strongest possible terms not to allow this legislation to move forward. 

“Consider what is at stake in the content and consequences of this legislation,” he stated. “It is not simply a matter of ‘choice’ or even ‘freedom.’ The Act being proposed is concerned with human life at its very beginning and its intentional termination and destruction.”

Though not Gov. Phil Murphy’s originally proposed RFA, the new legislation would codify the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 1982 decision to affirm the right to abortion.

“A fundamental Catholic social teaching is that life exists from conception to natural death, and the Catholic Church offers many programs through its agencies to help pregnant mothers before, during, and after childbirth,” King continued. “We ask all Catholics and people of good will to contact their legislators to express their opposition to this bill, which we view as a direct attack on human life.”

King also expressed concern about the haste in which S49/A6260 has advanced through the legislative process. “With only five days between the bill’s introduction and scheduled vote on January 10, 2022 – the last voting day of the current session – we were left with little time to offer our input and feedback.”

For updates and to access the NJCC's Action Alert, please click HERE.

Pro-life advocates were disheartened Dec. 6, 2021, when Gov. Murphy’s office announced the approval of changes to the State legislature’s rules on who may perform abortions, as well as expanding the locations where such procedures may take place.

The new rules, voted in by the medical examiners board, would soon allow first-trimester abortions to be performed by non-physicians, including nurse practitioners, midwives and physicians assistants, even in office settings.

The NJCC submitted comments to the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners in March, strongly opposing the proposed amendments by the State, “which would advance policies that threaten the sanctity of life and other human rights,” and challenged the justification for the amendments.

“The Board asserts that the current health and safety regulations for abortions in New Jersey present an undue burden that limits access to these procedures,” the NJCC stated in its comments. “However, recent statistics on the number of abortions performed in New Jersey suggests otherwise.”

According to the most recent data available, the NJCC continued, in 2017 New Jersey accounted for 5.6 percent of abortions performed in the United States. Additionally, between 2014 and 2017, New Jersey experienced a 9 percent increase in abortions while the remainder of the country witnessed an 8 percent decrease.

“This data, as well as the absence of any major restrictions on abortions and the continued allocation of New Jersey tax dollars for these services, suggests that the Board’s decision to amend these rules is nothing more than an arbitrary and capricious change of regulations for reasons other than medical necessity,” the NJCC concluded.

The State legislature did not pass Gov. Murphy’s Reproductive Freedom Act – from which the rule changes originated – after it met strong public opposition.

Meanwhile in the U.S. Supreme Court, two cases are examining abortion laws in both Texas and Mississippi.

The court ruled Dec. 10 that a Texas law that bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy can stay in effect but that abortion clinics could continue to challenge it. Less than a week later, the court sent a lawsuit against the state’s abortion law to a federal appeals court, instead of the District Court judge who had attempted to block it.

And in Mississippi, the state’s abortion law banning the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy was under scrutiny in December. Further examination is needed to determine if the law could be used as an argument to challenge Roe v. Wade – the landmark 1973 SCOTUS decision to legalize abortion.

The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that states cannot restrict abortion before viability, at around 24 weeks. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Mississippi's Catholic dioceses of Jackson and Biloxi supported the state's law in amicus briefs.

Articles from Catholic News Service contributed to this story.