Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's go ahead and head north to New Jersey where a coalition of organizations known as Thrive New Jersey are working to expand access to reproductive and sexual health care in the state. In October of 2020, Thrive New Jersey worked with state legislators to introduce the Reproductive Freedom Act, which would protect and expand access to birth control and pregnancy-related care, including abortion. The bill has been stalled in the legislature for almost a year now, but after Texas' restrictive abortion law went into effect this week, there's been a new push for new Jersey's legislature to take action. Here's New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy at a press conference on Wednesday,
Governor Phil Murphy: Texas ban does concern me. Very much so, it's what we had anticipated could happen, and remember the reproductive freedoms. I don't want to get into politics or-- but the fact of the matter is protecting women's health here, which is why we need to, as soon as possible, put this protection into statute. I'm strongly supportive of that and want to have that happens sooner than later.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Governor Murphy called on the state legislature to pass the Reproductive Freedom Act. However, the legislator is currently in recess until after the November 2nd election. Kaitlyn Wojtowicz is the vice president of Public Affairs at Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, which is part of the Thrive New Jersey coalition. Welcome to the show Kaitlyn.
Kaitlyn Wojtowicz: Thank you so much for having me, Melissa. I'm thrilled to be here.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Can you tell us a little bit and more about how the bill will expand reproductive healthcare in New Jersey?
Kaitlyn Wojtowicz: Of course, we know that this bill puts into statute the right to reproductive healthcare, including abortion. However, it also expands access in a few key ways. It removes financial barriers by mandating insurance coverage for abortion and without cost-sharing or copays, which is really key. It also allows for the prescribing of up to 12 months of birth control, which I think we can agree during a pandemic, would have been fantastic to have. It also removes the medically unnecessary regulations that we have here in New Jersey. They exist at a board level. It's called the board of medical examiners, and that really dictates who and where an abortion can be provided by.
We want to see those regulations lifted, which would allow for more providers, such as advanced practice clinicians, nurse practitioners, physician's assistants, to be able to provide the procedure of an abortion in a health center setting. It also expands a fund that is already in existence that is for folks who cannot access Medicaid or don't have insurance, which is obviously largely undocumented neighbors and family and friends of ours. Those folks would be able to utilize this fund, which already covers labor and delivery and prenatal care services, and birth control, but it would allow this fund to also pay for abortion for those folks. They have the full range of reproductive health care options.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Help us understand the ways that the Texas Restrictive Abortion Law, but also particularly the Supreme Court's late-night page and a half response to it. Then of course the Mississippi case that it's working its way into the court's full docket. How might that affect what's going on in New Jersey with the Reproductive Freedom Act?
Kaitlyn Wojtowicz: I just first have to say that our hearts here in New Jersey are with the people of Texas, the women of Texas at this time, and we are obviously very concerned about this. Unfortunately, we see what's going on with the Supreme Court as just another piece of the puzzle that has been falling into place for years now. We've seen a record number of state-level abortion restrictions across the country over the past few years. This is just the final step that we knew was eventually going to be coming.
We've been talking about the threat to Roe V. Wade, which to be clear is the floor and not the ceiling. It provides rights, but we're really trying to achieve access here in New Jersey as well as the right to abortion. We're really seeing people will be motivated and mobilized. We're hopeful that, while this is a tragic moment for the women of Texas, that here in New Jersey, people will see that we're not making up this threat that exists to reproductive healthcare and they'll feel motivated to take action and protect the people of New Jersey by passing the Reproductive Freedom Act.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Why is the bill been stalled in the legislature for so long?
Kaitlyn Wojtowicz: Melissa, I think it's a few things. I think it partially has to do with it being introduced during a pandemic. We introduced it in October of 2020, and obviously, the pandemic is still ongoing. In New Jersey, the winter and early spring and into the summer are taken up by budget, which is a big piece. While we were really pushing for the bill to be heard and for that to be done before they took a break it, unfortunately, did not happen by the end of June so, which is why we're still waiting now until November.
At the same time, while the calendar did not work in our favor in some measure, we also know that there's a lot of abortion stigma out there and that even includes folks who are pro-choice legislators who will want to vote for this legislation. It's just unfortunate that there is so much stigma and misinformation out there, and we're not-- Even proponents of safe, legal, accessible abortion can get caught up in that and it's unfortunate.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As you talk about the issue of stigma, it strikes me that it is almost unique, not entirely unique, but almost unique to procedures that there may be some stigma around the use of contraception, for example, among some communities where there are beliefs against it. But nothing is quite like just proclaiming openly, "I've had an abortion," or, "I need to take time off of work. I'm terminating a pregnancy," in ways that simply aren't like other medical procedures. Is there a cultural win, no matter what happens with the law as long as that stigma stays in place?
Kaitlyn Wojtowicz: I think that we will go a long way towards ending a lot of the stigma that exists by passing the Reproductive Freedom Act quite honestly because what we're really trying to do with this bill, with not just the text of the bill, but the way we talk about the bill and truly the way we believe this bill is crafted, is to say abortion is healthcare. Reproductive healthcare is healthcare and as we all know, healthcare is a human right.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What gives you hope right now in this space, the reproductive justice space?
Kaitlyn Wojtowicz: I draw a lot of hope from seeing the tireless advocacy across the country of other folks who are in this fight with us. I also draw my strength and my hope from the patients who visit Planned Parenthood health centers, and other health centers across the state. I know that we're working to ensure that everyone who needs access to reproductive healthcare, regardless of their income, their zip code, their immigration, or insurance status is going to be able to get the healthcare that they need.
That has always been, I can speak for myself, my North Star in this fight, and the reason I continue to do this work, even when it's hard, because I love the Garden State, I love New Jersey, and I want to make sure that everyone here has access to the healthcare they need. If that's abortion, birth control, pregnancy-related care so that we can all live healthy, fulfilling, and sustainable lives.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Kaitlyn Wojtowicz who is vice president of Public Affairs at Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey. Thank you for joining us today.
Kaitlyn Wojtowicz: Thank you so much for having me.
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