For five years, Gov. Chris Christie has consistently defended his controversial opposition to $7.5 million in funding for family-planning clinics as a cost-containment measure. The state couldn’t afford it, he said. But yesterday, before a national Republican audience, he boasted of his line-item vetoes as evidence of his conservative bona-fides.
“I just stand on my record,” Christie told talk-show host Laura Ingraham Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, in answer to a question as to how he competes with social conservatives like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. “I mean, I’m pro-life. I ran as a pro-life candidate in 2009 unapologetically, spoke at the pro-life rally on the steps of the statehouse, the first governor to ever speak at a pro-life rally on the steps of the statehouse in the state of New Jersey, and vetoed Planned Parenthood funding five times out of the New Jersey budget,” Christie said.
In a series of five veto messages since becoming governor, Christie cited fiscal constraints as the reason he opposed the funding. He removed the funding in his budget in 2010 and has vetoed Democratic bills to restore the funding every year since then. Six of the state’s 58 family-planning clinics have since closed, while others cut back hours, with advocates saying the closures were a direct result of Christie’s actions. The $7.5 million in state funding would have been matched nine to one by the federal government.
The clinics that closed included Planned Parenthood clinics in Cherry Hill and Dover; independent clinics in Bayonne and Millville; and Burlington County Department of Health clinics in Westampton and Pemberton Township.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) who has battled with Christie over the issue said she wasn’t surprised by the comments, adding that she always thought and has said that he opposed the funding as a “tip of the hat to the right wing of the Republican Party.”
“He says whatever he needs to say, because he doesn’t have a commitment to principles, whether it’s pro-choice or pro-life,” Weinberg said.
But she said the comments called into question the actions of legislators who supported funding the clinics but wouldn’t vote to override Christie’s vetoes.
“What about my colleagues who believed him and believed this was about budget?” Weinberg said.
She said Christie’s position was due to his national aspirations. “Those don’t usually coincide with what’s good and healthy for progressive New Jersey,” she said.
“The women of New Jersey have lost six women’s health centers so that he could get up in front of CPAC today and make this speech,” she said.
Weinberg expects to introduce another bill to fund the clinics this year.
Christie has repeatedly highlighted the role that federally qualified health centers play in providing a full range of health services to women and families in the state, and that providing funding to the family-planning centers would be duplicative.
But Weinberg said that thousands of women aren’t served by the federal qualified health centers because they lived much closer to the closed clinics and have difficulty reaching more distant locations. She also noted that Christie has said in previous years that women can seek healthcare in hospital emergency rooms.
“Why would a woman want to go into an emergency room for primary care for women’s reproductive services,” Weinberg said, adding that these women are better served by local clinics.