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Op-Ed: Coming Soon to a New Jersey Statehouse Near You?

The governor is unashamedly pro-life, a position that pits him against women's healthcare, especially when it comes to the state's poorest women.

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This past weekend I attended a rally for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate state Senator Barbara Buono -- well-attended for a Saturday event in July, with more than 100 residents at which she called her opponent, Gov. Chris Christie, “rabidly anti-choice.” Even I noted her strong words. On Sunday I read Tom Moran’s column in the Star Ledger in which he says that if Christie is able to take control of the Senate in November, “he is off to the races on taxes, abortion, and anything else that appeals to Iowa Republicans.”

As a pro-choice woman, who strongly believes that reproductive decisions must be made by women and their families, I am increasingly alarmed at events in the South and Southwest and fear that this anti-woman sentiment might move north. I am appalled that legislators are changing the rules for women -- clearly signaling that women are not smart enough, or can’t be trusted enough, to make their own choices. When to become a parent should be decided by each woman, not by men in government office buildings.

Case in point, Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s signing of a package of laws that will drastically reduce access to abortion across his state. Most of the bills are meant to make it hard for clinics to comply with the law because of requirements, such as admitting privileges for doctors at local hospitals and the width of the hallways. One provision requires doctors to administer RU-486, rather than allow a woman to take the pills at home by herself. All of these restrictions may lead to the closure of all but five abortion clinics in the state of Texas, the second-largest state in the Union, with a population of 26.1 million.

If Christie wins reelection I think we will have cause for alarm right here in New Jersey. He vetoed two bills relating to Medicaid in the last legislative session. The first one was a bill expanding Medicaid coverage for family-planning services for single women. The second was a bill that would make permanent the Medicaid expansion that he did approve. One can only assume that the governor had no choice but to agree to expand Medicaid because the expansion brought with it $227 million in matching funds from the federal government. This flexibility allows Christie to say he expanded Medicaid, which helps him win reelection in New Jersey, while giving him the ability to backpedal next year if the national agenda demands it.

In addition, the governor also vetoed much-needed funding for a public awareness campaign to explain the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace, for which signup begins on October 1, 2013.

But the most troubling omission from the state budget -- for the fourth year in a row -- is the $7.4 million for family-planning clinics that Christie cut out of the budget in 2009. This funding was used to provide basic reproductive healthcare services across the state, including cancer-screenings, birth control, prevention and treatment of STIs, breast health services, Pap tests, and other screenings. This funding was not used for abortion services. In 2009, the last year the funding was available, 136,000 patients were served.

According to the Family Planning Association of New Jersey’s latest report these is some of the impact of the cut of $7.4 million, which resulted in the closing of six clinics:

  • In 2012, New Jersey’s family-planning providers saw at least 33,000 fewer patients compared with 2009 -- a 24 percent drop in patients served.

  • The number of clinical breast exams performed at these providers dropped from 70,506 in 2009 to 48,441 in 2012 -- a 31percent drop over three years.

  • From 2009-2012, the number of gonorrhea tests declined by 24 percent, Chlamydia by 28 percent, syphilis by 29 percent, and HIV by 18 percent.

More than six in 10 patients who receive care at a family-planning center consider it their primary source of healthcare; therefore, women depending on these clinics for basic healthcare may be without any care today.

In Union County, the towns affected by these cuts serve some of our poorest residents. Women who have less resources have fewer choices about where they go for services, how far they can travel, how much time they can take off from work, and how much they can spend on childcare to go to the clinic. For example, the Elizabeth health center served over 900 fewer patients in 2010 than they did in 2009, and the Plainfield health center served 300 fewer patients, due to staff reductions and restructuring suffered because of the $7.4 million cut.

In Essex County, Newark was the biggest loser due to cuts in both federal Title X funding and the $7.4 million that Christie axed. Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey, which operates centers in the Ironbound and on Washington Street next to the Rutgers Campus, lost a total of $1.2 million in state funding. Before the governor’s cut, the centers were only able to see about 30 percentage of the residents needing services due to capacity issues. That percentage surely shrink.

The governor says that he is anti-choice, but right now he governs in a blue state and has to check his conservative agenda -- not so once he is reelected and on his way to the national stage. It behooves all women in New Jersey to educate themselves about Senator Barbara Buono. She’s pro-choice and proud of it.

Ann Ormsby is a writer who lives in Westfield, NJ.

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