Democrats’ Devil of a Time with the Reproductive Freedom Act

As the NJ Legislature now awaits Governor Phil Murphy’s actions on the 2020 budget, a veteran statehouse source admitted to being confused about front office gamesmanship. The source also predicts the state government will shut down for a day or two.

One of the ideological truisms of today’s polarized political world is that Democrats support abortion rights and Republicans do not.

But apparently not all the time.

Democrats in New Jersey are having a devil of a time trying to pass what probably should be a slam-dunk – a bill to protect abortion rights in the face of uncertain action by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The threat is real. The court this week is scheduled to hear arguments on a Mississippi law that sharply restricts abortion rights. On the surface, this violates Roe v. Wade, which is precisely why abortion opponents are excited. Their hope is that the court will support the law and essentially overturn Roe v. Wade.

That possibility prompted Democrats to draft what is called the Reproductive Freedom Act, which would protect abortion rights in New Jersey regardless of what the Supreme Court does.

The bill has many sponsors and co-sponsors, suggesting that passing it should be a mere formality.

That’s not the case.

Despite the seeming support and the strong endorsement of Gov. Phil Murphy, the bill is languishing in the Legislature.

The just-concluded election was the first problem.

Polls indicate statewide support for abortion rights, but party leaders seemed afraid to move the bill in the months before election day.

It is true that Republican Jack Ciattarelli attacked the bill during his campaign as evidence of Dems going too far left. But at the same time, abortion rights is a staple of Democratic party ideology and campaign rhetoric is well … campaign rhetoric. Why the apprehension?

Now the election is over and as far as quick passage of the bill, things may be even bleaker.

Following a strong Republican showing, Democrats may want to tread carefully. Or in other words, step away from doing anything that might be controversial. That at least is the conventional wisdom.

OK, but you need to ask, why is supporting basic abortion rights in a state where a majority supports basic abortion rights controversial?

Moreover, just how massive was the GOP showing?

The perception is that Republicans won big on Nov. 2, but what’s the reality?

Murphy will be governor for the next four years and Democrats will still control both houses of the Legislature. Sure, they lost some seats, but their margin going into Nov. 2 was so overwhelming a few losses had to be expected. And the attention paid to Steve Sweeney’s defeat aside, when all is said and done, Democrats lost only one seat in the Senate.

In blunt political terms, Republicans control nothing. That’s the reality.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Democrats in Trenton have shied away from passing consequential legislation just because it may upset some people. It does go back a few years, but recall the Dems’ inability to pass marriage equality and pot legalization despite support from a majority of residents, and certainly a majority of party members.

All this prompts a simple question:

Why is it so hard to pass legislation that members of your own party want to see passed?

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