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June 21, 2019

The Assembly voting session on Thursday hit a snag when three Assemblymen — Andrew Zwicker (D-Somerset), Jay Webber (R-Morris) and Joe Howarth (R-Burlington) — engaged in a tense back-and-forth regarding reproductive rights and religious freedom.

Zwicker is co-sponsoring a bill (A-5508) with Assemblywomen Carol Murphy (D-Burlington) and Shavonda Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic) that would require employers in the state to offer healthcare coverage of contraceptives. The requirement, Zwicker pointed out, is already part of the national Affordable Care Act, but that law is facing a serious legal challenge and is a constant target of President Donald Trump’s administration.

“This bill is completely unnecessary and wrong for the state,” Webber said. “It attacks the fundamental rights of the citizens of this state guaranteed to them by the United States Constitution.” He demanded the sponsor name an employer who would be affected by this legislation.

“What are you trying to get at?" Zwicker asked.

Howarth, a self-proclaimed MAGA Republican, supporting Webber, noted the landmark Supreme Court case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruled some corporations could be exempt from a regulation its owners objected to, based on their religious convictions.

As the debate rose to a boil, Assemblywoman Timberlake took the floor: “I just wanted to point out that I found the debate to be quite interesting as it was between three men about women’s issues,” she said. “This is something that is extremely important, that women have a right to decide about their bodies for themselves.”

Webber was having none of it. “Men have every right to stand up and advocate for the positions they hold on this floor … I don’t care what your genitalia is,” he said. “I think this state is well past that kind of bigotry ... to say that because you’re a man, you don’t have a right to speak on this issue.”

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