NJ Senate passes bills funding family planning centers

There were congratulations all around as pink-clad advocates and the legislators they support gathered to celebrate the beginning of the end of the so-called Planned Parenthood funding ban, imposed by Gov. Chris Christie eight years ago.

“We’re here today because at 2 p.m., the Senate will be voting on two bills that will restore funding for family planning services and expand access to reproductive health care,” said Christine Sadovy, legislative and political director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey.

To be sure, the Democrat-controlled Legislature has voted for this eight years running. That part is no news flash. The news here is that, finally for these men and women, they have an ally who will sign the legislation. There are still a few weeks to go before that happens, but Thursday’s vote will have special meaning to those who’ve been fighting for it for nearly a decade.

“I kind of jumped the line, and jumped in front of Loretta for one reason,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “I want to recognize the work that she has done. She is your champion, you know that.”

Sen. Loretta Weinberg, the driving force behind the bills, called it a special day.

“In 2018, we should not even be debating these issues,” she said. “I don’t ever want to debate anymore women’s access to reproductive care, and we will give that back to women fully when Gov. Murphy signs both these bills.”

There was even some token Republican support at Thursday morning’s press event.

“This issue should never be a partisan issue,” said Republican Sen. Kip Bateman. “Women’s health care is a bipartisan issue. Everybody should be concerned about it, and that’s why, on at least three or four occasions, I voted to override Christie on this very important issue.”

Two bills, S-105, which expands Medicaid eligibility for family planning services, and S-120, which restores the $7.5 million in funding for Planned Parenthood and similar family planning centers, got a hearty thumbs up in the Senate. But as it heads to the Assembly, Republican Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, targeted by opponents in her district for her votes against the funding bills, says she wants to know more about how much recipients are getting and how they’re spending it.

“It’s $7 million of public money and if they are unable or incapable of providing something such as a budget, they should not receive a dollar of public money until they’re willing to do so,” she said.

Both bills are now headed to the Assembly where they are also expected to get quick approval. A signing ceremony, which the governor has promised, would take place in mid-February.