N.J. may give more money to Planned Parenthood after Trump’s abortion rule, top Dem says
Below is an article written by Brent Johnson and published by NJ Advance Media on August 21, 2019.
Planned Parenthood’s New Jersey affiliates forfeited millions of dollars in funding this week by withdrawing from a federal program in protest of a controversial new rule from President Donald Trump’s administration barring them from telling patients where they can get an abortion.
But state Senate President Stephen Sweeney vowed Wednesday to work with Gov. Phil Murphy and other lawmakers to provide nearly $9 million more in state taxpayer money for Planned Parenthood and other clinics to cover any lost federal funds.
“Health care is absolutely a right, and we need to ensure the funds and services are there for the population that utilizes it,” Sweeney, D-Gloucester, told reporters at a news conference at Planned Parenthood in Trenton.
“They’re standing on principle, and they’re standing because they’re right,” he added. “Denying information to people who need to make decisions about health care is not acceptable.”
More than 77,000 low-income residents in the Garden State use health services at Planned Parenthood. Officials said most are women of color. That number also includes some men.
The organization’s New Jersey affiliates announced Monday they were withdrawing from the federal Title X program, which provides $8.8 million in funding to women’s health and family planning centers in the state. It’s unclear if other clinics will also pull out of the program.
Federal law already prevents using Title X grants for abortions. But the Trump administration went further in declaring that groups receiving the funds could not “promote, refer for or support abortion as a method of family planning, nor take any affirmative action to assist a patient to secure such an abortion.”
It’s the latest step by Trump to restrict access to abortion, a key issue for many of the conservative Christian voters who support the Republican president.
Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, Planned Parenthood’s legislative and political director in New Jersey, said it would be “medically unethical” to use federal money because the rule will “prevent doctors and clinics from giving patients all the information they deserve.”
“Planned Parenthood won’t withhold critical information from our patients,” Wojtowicz said. “That’s why we’re saying no.”
U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12th Dist., accused Trump of enacting the rule for “idealogical reasons only and political reasons only.”
“We don’t get in the middle of a doctor-patient relationship with politics,” Watson Coleman said. “This is evil.”
New Jersey is one of 20 states challenging the rule in federal court. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the rule to take effect while the court case proceed, overturning two nationwide injunctions.
In the meantime, Planned Parenthood’s New Jersey affiliates say they will use emergency funds to make sure no services are affected.
But Sweeney said the state can’t count on the courts and must step in with state money, which would likely be diverted from the more than $1.2 billion surplus in the state budget.
That’s on top of the $7.5 million already in the state budget for Planned Parenthood and similar clinics.
New Jersey’s Democratic leaders restored that $7.5 million in the budget after eight years of it being cut by former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican. Murphy, a Democrat who succeeded Christie in January 2018, restored the funding with the first bill he signed into law.
“You can’t let this health care network collapse,” Sweeney said. “We would prefer not to have to do it. It is a federal program. But you have a president that just looks to attack on anything and everything at all times. You’d think he wakes up in the morning and says, ‘What can I do to disrupt more people’s lives?’”
Sweeney said he still has to speak about the funding with Murphy and state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, the other leader of the Democratic-controlled state Legislature.
Sweeney said the Legislature could vote on an appropriations bill approving the money in early September. It would then need to be signed by Murphy.
Though Sweeney often clashes with Murphy, the Senate president said he expects the governor to work with him on this.
“I can’t see how the Assembly, the Senate, and the governor can’t get together and stand up and do the right thing for the people of this state that really need this health care,” Sweeney said.
Kevin McArdle, a spokesman for Coughlin, said the speaker is “certainly open to having that discussion with his caucus leadership and the Senate President.”
Murphy’s office didn’t immediately commit to the funding but reiterated that it’s working with government officials and health care groups to see how the state might help.
Alyana Alfaro, a spokesman for the governor, said the Murphy administration “stands firm and proud in our support of women’s health and family planning services in New Jersey in the face of the Trump Administration’s dangerous and unethical rule.”
Title X serves 100,000 residents in the Garden State, with 77 percent seeking services at a Planned Parenthood facility in 2018. That year, it was the only clinic operating under Title X in 13 of the state’s 21 counties.
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