Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday signed a law that, for now at least, inoculates women’s health clinics run by Planned Parenthood and other agencies against the loss of nearly $10 million under an anti-abortion edict issued by the Trump administration.
Last August, Planned Parenthood, which runs 22 clinics in New Jersey, opted to forgo millions in federal funding over the administration’s so-called gag rule, which forbids agencies that take money under the Title X program from advising clients about abortion.
The bill — approved by the Democratic majorities in both houses in late 2019, over the objection of anti-abortion advocates — allocates state money to restore the $9.5 million that had been forfeited.
“President Trump made a conscious decision to block women from vital information critical to their health,” said Murphy, during an event in Trenton. “Planned Parenthood made a conscious decision to continue providing vital information to their patients, knowing it would cost them much-needed federal funds. And today, we’re making a conscious decision to stand with Planned Parenthood.”
Officials with the group say they have been spending emergency funding reserves in lieu of Title X money, to serve its more than 70,000 clients across the state.
“We would’ve had to make some very, very difficult decisions in the near future, had we not been able to access these funds,” said Roslyn Rogers Collins, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey.
The group explained its stance, saying complying with the edict would have denied their clients access to vital information.
“We owe it to our patients to be able to give them a full range of the information they need when they’re making choices,” said Triste Brooks, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern, Central and Southern New Jersey.
NJ Right to Life opposed the state law, saying in a statement, “The taxpayers of New Jersey should not be forced to fund abortion – and make no mistake – that is what this bill will do. Abortion is not healthcare. It is an act of violence …”
Among those on hand in Trenton on Thursday was Liliana Alcaide, who remembered being 24 years old and facing possible cervical cancer with no money and no insurance when Planned Parenthood provided the necessary treatment for free.
“I needed additional testing and treatment to prevent these pre-cancerous cells from turning into cancer, fast,” the Dover resident recalled. “But I was already out of a job, and no longer had health insurance.”
“I was petrified, and was completely lost,” she said.
“Liliana’s story tells a story that women’s health care and reproductive rights are not just the ‘A’ word,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver.
The state’s two Planned Parenthood branches will split $6 million initially — for health care services offered at the 22 sites they run. Some of the state money could also flow to eight other agencies serving 40,000 clients at 24 other facilities, which are funded through New Jersey’s Family Planning League.
The group has continued to accept Title X dollars, despite the federal edict.
“But that’s a constant challenge for us,” Joseph Alifante, president and CEO of the Family Planning League. “We’ll see, as things move forward, whether we’ll have to make that tough decision of not accepting any of the federal dollars.”
The law only applies to funding in 2020. If the gag rule remains in effect through the next federal funding cycle, the agencies may be back here again in 2021.