(TRENTON) — Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Assemblywoman Linda Stender, the leading champions for women’s health in the Legislature, on Tuesday called on their Republican colleagues in both houses to join with Democrats in supporting a critical vote to override Gov. Christie’s recent veto of a bill providing $7.5 million for 59 women’s health and family planning centers throughout the state.
“There is no longer the time or room for legislators who support this bill in theory, but fear political consequences, to sit back and hope someone else will shepherd this funding through,” said Weinberg (D-Bergen), chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee and a prime sponsor of the legislation. “We need to corral every vote possible to ensure that the health of low income women throughout this state is not a casualty of political ideologies.”
“The gravity of the situation necessitates that some of our colleagues move outside of their comfort zone now,” said Stender (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union), a prime sponsor of the legislation. “On the philosophical side of the equation, opponents cannot ignore the sad fact that eliminating these funds will actually increase abortions. On the practical side of the equation, the cost savings and services provided are also far too great to be ignored.”
The lawmakers announced that they have sent a letter to every member of the Legislature asking for their support in the weeks ahead, placing a particular emphasis on Republicans whose votes are needed in order to obtain the super majority necessary to override the governor’s veto. The Senate needs 27 votes for an override while the Assembly needs 54.
At stake, the lawmakers noted, are the more than 136,000 patients who were served by family planning centers in New Jersey last year.
Not only did these centers help prevent 40,000 pregnancies, 19,000 abortions and save the state more than $150 million, but they also provide extensive services that include: birth control; routine gynecological exams; prenatal care; screenings for high blood pressure, anemia, diabetes, sexually transmitted infections, and breast and cervical cancer; as well as critical education and outreach.
The lawmakers also stressed that the legislation they have sponsored specifically includes a provision that bars public dollars from being used to fund abortions.
Weinberg and Stender pointed to recent Senate testimony from the Washington DC-based Guttmacher Institute demonstrating that without family planning funding to support contraceptives, New Jersey will actually see an increase in abortions due to an explosion in unplanned pregnancies.
Furthermore, The Guttmacher Institute estimates that by providing publicly-funded contraceptive services, New Jersey saved $156 million in state and federal Medicaid dollars in 2008, costs it would have incurred on pre- and postnatal care, delivery, and infant care. By allocating $7.5 million in funding to the program — less than one-tenth of one percent of the total budget — New Jersey would save an estimated $4 for every dollar spent.
The lawmakers also noted that they have written a provision into the bill which would require the state to apply for a 90 percent match in federal dollars, funding New Jersey is presently eligible for which would save an additional $90 million over the next five years.
“New census data released last week shows that New Jersey ranks 29th in the nation in the percentage of uninsured women under age 65 (15.1%). When broken down to women under age 65 who are at or below 250 percent of the poverty level, the state’s rank drops to 44th. These are the very people being served by family planning centers, further underscoring the need to reinstate this funding,” said Weinberg.
“Absent this funding, women without the means to afford healthcare will now be forced to forgo essential prevention measures to keep them healthy, instead utilizing hospital emergency rooms when they become sick,” Stender said. “The most frustrating part is that it did not have to come to this, but we still have an opportunity to avoid this scenario.”
Weinberg and Stender also noted that in the days since the governor vetoed the bill (S-2139/A-3019), they have heard from a number of prominent groups who support their attempt to override the veto, including the New Jersey League of Women Voters, the Women’s Political Caucus, Women Advocating for Good Government, the National Coalition of Jewish Women, the March of Dimes and Catholics for Choice.
In the weeks ahead, they stressed that they will be personally reaching out to each member of the Legislature to ask for their help in overriding the Governor’s veto.