Women’s Equality Day Everywhere But in New Jersey

As we celebrate national “Women’s Equality Day” this week, it is tragically ironic that Governor Christie has relegated women’s health to backburner status in New Jersey.

With the stroke of his pen, the Governor has defied the will of the legislature in a shortsighted act that saw the veto of $7.5 million for vital health services for un- and underinsured women, as well as men and children.  The Governor has shown that because of his ideology he is willing to deny women birth control and watch as abortions actually increase. 

Plain and simple, Governor Christie’s veto wastes taxpayer dollars and will increase abortions. 

 The Governor claims his veto was purely a fiscal decision and that the state cannot afford this program.  Yet, the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services identified dollars in the Governor’s budget that overestimated the cost of the state drug prescription program. In the vetoed legislation those dollars were to be used to fully fund these health services without increasing the state budget one dime.

The Governor said the legislation’s funding source was not accurate.  Yet, when the Senate held a hearing on the matter and invited the administration to defend its claims, no one dared to come and speak. 

The Guttmacher Institute estimates that by providing publicly-funded contraceptive services, New Jersey saved $156 million in state and federal Medicaid dollars in 2008, costs we would have incurred on pre- and postnatal care, delivery, and infant care.  By allocating $7.5 million in funding to the program – less than one-tenth of one percent of the total budget – New Jersey would have saved an estimated $4 for every dollar spent. 

Furthermore, New Jersey is eligible for a staggering 90 percent match in federal dollars.  Our legislation requires the state to apply for this federal match, which would save New Jersey an additional $90 million over the next five years. 

The $7.5 million for family planning is money well spent.   

The fact of the matter is that these “family planning” dollars fund birth control; routine gynecological exams; prenatal care; screenings for high blood pressure, anemia, diabetes, sexually transmitted infections, and breast and cervical cancer; as well as critical education and outreach. 

Absent this funding, women without the means to afford healthcare will now be forced to forgo essential prevention measures to keep them healthy, instead utilizing hospital emergency rooms and charity care funds when they become sick.  What’s more, while the legislation specifically does not fund abortions, the sad truth is abortions will increase as a result of the governor’s veto. 

Recent testimony from the Washington DC-based Guttmacher Institute unequivocally demonstrates that without family planning funding to support contraceptives, New Jersey will actually see an increase in abortions due to an explosion in unplanned pregnancies.  In 2008, alone, family planning centers helped more than 30,000 women in New Jersey avoid unintended pregnancies, 12,600 of which would have resulted in abortions.

The Governor’s veto makes no fiscal or human sense.  Of course for someone who is courting the far right it makes political sense.  Therein lies the tragedy.  Governor Christie has chosen to turn his back on women and families to earn points for his political future paid for by the human suffering of cancer discovered too late or an unplanned pregnancy terminated. 

The only recourse left is to summon a super majority in both houses of the legislature to override the Governor’s edict.  This will require an enormous amount of courage on the part of Republicans – courage to put party loyalty and fears of retribution aside and vote in favor of the women who can be saved by an early breast cancer diagnosis; the women who can have a chance at living a long, healthy life thanks to a proper diabetes diagnosis; and the women and families who want to plan or prevent the birth of additional children. 

If you believe that a woman’s access to healthcare and her ability to make choices about her body and personal health is a right, and not something that can be dictated by the governor, then we ask you to stand with us in calling on your representatives in the legislature to put women’s healthcare funding back in the budget.

Assemblywoman Linda Stender is one of the prime sponsors of the women’s healthcare legislation in the General Assembly

Women’s Equality Day Everywhere But in New Jersey