When, on Jan. 4, 2021, the N.J. Board of Medical Examiners published proposed regulatory changes to abortion rules in New Jersey, the New Jersey Catholic Conference, along with other pro-life advocacy groups, including some medical professionals, submitted their opposition.

In spite of this significant opposition, the proposed rule changes were approved by the SBOME on Oct. 13.

In January, the Board had proposed repealing an existing state rule which ensured abortions after 15 weeks of gestation would only take place in licensed ambulatory surgical centers or hospitals, depending on methods used and the gestational age of the unborn child, and which permitted only licensed physicians to perform abortion procedures.

The now-approved amendments allow non-physicians to perform abortions after 14 weeks of gestation, permit abortions in office-based settings, and eliminate the requirement of hospital-admitting privileges to medical professionals performing these procedures.

In a March letter to the Board and comments submitted contesting the proposed changes, James King, NJCC executive director who speaks on behalf of the state’s Catholic bishops, challenged the justification for the proposed amendments, writing, “As proposed, 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. However, recent statistics on the number of abortions performed in New Jersey suggest otherwise.”

King’s letter cited the most recent data available, which found that in 2017 more than 48,000 abortions were performed in New Jersey, accounting 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 in the abortions.

“This data, as well as the absence of any major restrictions on abortions [including parental notification and mandated waiting periods] 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. For this reason, I am asking the State Board of Medical Examiners to not adopt the amendments proposed in PR 2021-002,” wrote King.

King wrote: “The New Jersey Catholic Conference strongly opposes these amendments because any attempt to advance policies that threaten the right to life is an attack on the very foundation of all other human rights.” To read the full letter, go to njcatholic.org>

Wider availability of services that could lead to a further increase in the state’s abortion rates was not the only rationale to oppose the rule changes.  Their impact on the health and safety of women seeking abortions was also a point of concern. Dr. Gerald Burke, president, South Jersey Catholic Medical Guild of the Diocese of Camden, and a doctor of reproductive endocrinology, infertility and gynecology, expressed concern that “the easing of current medical standards would result in great harm and injury to the women of New Jersey.”

In a letter opposing the proposed amendments, Dr. Burke wrote, “The justification for extending surgical privileges to these non-surgeons are ‘journal articles’ based on data from the California and New York State experiences (other states where this policy has been instituted) suggesting that, when these surgical privileges are extended to non-surgeons, there is no increased risk of injury or death to the patients. Unfortunately, medical articles, and the statistics upon which they are based, can be molded to justify a position and not reflect the reality of the situation.”

Though this was a battle not won, moving forward, said King, “We must continue to pray for a change of hearts and minds regarding abortion and come to a firm understanding that we have a responsibility to build a culture of life.” As part of that undertaking, stressed King, “We need to ask ourselves, ‘How are we working to eliminate the racial, social, and economic issues that lead mothers to think abortion is a viable choice?’”