Statehouse Theater and the Specter of an Imperiled Roe v. Wade

Peterson at the Statehouse

The lame duck session in Trenton began last week amid cries by Republicans about “tyranny” and vanishing liberty.

The theater was a lot of things to different people – heartening, amusing and downright silly. Now that the shouting has ended, a more serious question is what of consequence may happen in the last few weeks of the current Legislature?

To grasp the biggest issue of the lame duck session, one needs to glance beyond Trenton to Washington.

For the first time since 1973, abortion rights, as we know them, are in peril.

The U.S. Supreme Court held a hearing last week on a challenge to a Mississippi law that bans abortion after a pregnancy of 15 weeks – this is below the standard of Roe v. Wade.

Upholding the Mississippi law would not in itself end abortion rights across the nation, but it could prompt other states to adopt the same law.

All this has social conservatives rejoicing and liberals in fear.

New Jersey – still a “blue” state even after some Republican election success – would seem to be in a great position to respond to whatever the court does.

If abortion rights are restricted, just pass a law codifying the principles of Roe v. Wade.

And yes, people have thought about that. Which is why the Reproductive Freedom Act was introduced.

But Democratic leaders seem afraid to vote on the bill. In truth, they could have done it months ago. But they didn’t.

Pressure on the Dems to act in the lame duck session ratcheted up this week with three events, including a rally on Saturday.

Phil Murphy, who appeared at a virtual event last Wednesday in support of the bill, reiterated his pro-choice position that women have the right to control their bodies and to decide when to start a family.

Referring to last week’s hearing, the governor observed that the threat to abortion rights federally is very real.

“This is not abstract,” he said. “This is in our lap.”

None of these comments should be controversial for any Democrat.

So, the real challenge for Murphy is to get it through the Legislature. Press events and rallies are nice, but they’re no substitute for negotiations and political will.

Which brings us to the riveting question of the lame duck, can Murphy get the abortion rights bill passed?

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