When New Jersey voters went to the polls last week they brought good news for those candidates — including Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy — whose campaigns were backed by Planned Parenthood and other women’s healthcare advocates.
And if all goes as planned, the election results will also benefit the hundreds of thousands of women and their families who depend on free and low-cost clinics for cancer screenings, birth control, and other healthcare services.
In fact, advocates and one key legislative leader are looking to the incoming Democratic administration to work with them to provide an unprecedented influx of funding — as much as $15 million — over the next year or so to support certain women’s healthcare providers.
Supporters have said the dollars are desperately needed since Republican Gov. Chris Christie suspended in 2011 what had become an annual state appropriation of nearly $7.5 million to support Planned Parenthood and other women’s healthcare providers.
Murphy has prioritized the reinstatement of public funding for these clinics and highlighted the issue during his campaign to defeat Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, a Republican who said she supported women’s healthcare in general, but would not have allocated state dollars for this purpose.
Murphy: ‘We’ll find the money’
A poll conducted in June by the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics and the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute found that more than three out of four voters surveyed supported the use of state and federal funds for such care.
While Murphy campaign staff declined yesterday to provide details on the specific timing of restoring the funding, the governor-elect has made clear the issue is high on his list. “We’ll find the money — period,” Murphy said at a meeting in June with Planned Parenthood representatives and other health advocates.
Democrats in the state Legislature are also eager to restore the budget line and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has said it will be among his caucus’ early goals after Murphy takes office in January. Democratic lawmakers passed a supplemental appropriation to restore the funding each time Christie omitted it from the budget, but the governor vetoed these attempts.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) who has spearheaded efforts to provide this funding, said yesterday she would introduce a supplemental appropriation early next year requesting $7.5 million for this work from the current budget, which lasts through June 2018. She will also advocate for the Murphy administration to include another $7.5 million in his first state budget, which takes effect in July 2018. If both are approved, it would represent a historic level of funding for these programs.
“Women’s health funding has been decimated under this administration, resulting in a decline in services and the closure of family planning centers in the state,” Weinberg said. “It is critical that we restore funding so that women have access to the vital services they need, including life-saving cancer screenings, birth control, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, and more.”
$45M loss of funds during Christie’s tenure
Weinberg and other advocates note that, over time, the lack of additional funding has compounded to reach a $45 million loss for Planned Parenthood and other providers, which together operate some 58 facilities statewide. Since 2011, six clinics have been forced to shut down because of the loss of state dollars, advocates said.
Christie has framed his decision as both economic and ideological, given his opposition to abortion. Both he and state health officials have defended the policy, insisting that patients have obtained care at other low-cost facilities, including dozens of Federally Qualified Health Centers that provide women’s healthcare services. (Federal law prohibits public funding from paying for abortions, but this money can be used for other care.)
While healthcare issues, in general, did not occupy much bandwidth during this fall’s general election, Planned Parenthood and other advocates worked hard to keep funding for women’s care on the agenda. According to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund —the organization’s political arm — the group reached more than 4 million viewers through social media ads, emailed over 1 million supporters, and placed more than 4,800 calls to Garden State voters.
The text in one video ad created by the group speaks of “eight long years of an anti-women’s health administration.” The message begins over a black and white picture of Christie and Guadagno, and then morphs into a brightly colored campaign shot, with Planned Parenthood volunteers in pink tops. “Planned Parenthood support was a key issue for New Jersey voters,” the text continues.
Planned Parenthood also invested directly in the elections, in which Democrats picked up several new seats in the state Senate and Assembly. The group spent at least $22,000 to support Murphy and other candidates and more than $120,000 on advertising, campaign supplies, phone banks, and food and other supports for volunteers, according to reports filed with the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission.
The strategy appears to have paid off. Three out of four Planned Parenthood-endorsed candidates won last Tuesday in dozens of districts stretching across the Garden State. In several of the tightest races — like the 11th and 16th districts — winning candidates campaigned heavily on women’s healthcare messages, the group said.
“New Jersey should be a leader when it comes to reproductive health,” said Christine Sadovy, the action fund’s political and legislative director. “Our supporters will continue to take action in 2018 and beyond to make women’s rights and health a priority.”