By Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen)
I was deeply disturbed this past week to see a video of a now former Planned Parenthood employee offering reprehensible advice to an undercover member of the anti-choice group Live Action.
This incident was wholly inconsistent with the mission and practice of Planned Parenthood, which has a proven track record in New Jersey of providing much needed women’s health services in a safe, ethical and professional manner.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this incident though, was that it deflected attention away from Gov. Christie as he vetoed legislation that would have used federal dollars to pay for family planning services. With the stroke of his veto pen, he once again denied New Jersey women access to necessary healthcare and denied the state an opportunity to receive much-needed federal funding.
Sadly, this came as no surprise because over the past year, Governor Christie has made a mission out of saying NO to funding for women’s health care. Last spring the Governor proposed a budget that eliminated the annual $7.5 million appropriation on the basis that New Jersey did not have the money.
In response, my Democratic colleagues and I found the money for him. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed that budget appropriation in June.
Since then New Jersey has seen a reduction in vital women’s health services. One of the latest casualties is the prenatal clinic in the former Barnert Hospital, which recently announced that it is closing its doors and reducing hours at all six clinics in Hudson, Essex and Passaic counties.
Several dozen employees have already been laid off. Learning of situations like this and other impacts of Governor Christie’s funding elimination, my colleagues and I again found a funding source, this time in the federal Medicaid program.
The legislation I sponsored would have directed New Jersey to submit an application to the federal government to expand the state’s Medicaid program offering family planning services to low income individuals.
Currently, only individuals earning 133 percent or less of the federal poverty level, which is about $22,000 for a family of four, are covered under the current state plan. This legislation would have allowed individuals earning 200 percent or less to qualify.
In his veto message, Governor Christie claimed that it would be too expensive for New Jersey to enact the legislation. However, several other states have already taken this step and as a result those states receive $9 in federal reimbursement for every $1 they spend for family planning services.
The Medicaid expansion would have been an opportunity for New Jersey to maximize its use of federal dollars while also maintaining a vital service. However, Governor Christie again chose ideology over New Jersey’s fiscal health and the health of our state’s women and families.
Right now, nearly 400,000 of our state’s residents are in need of subsidized family planning services and over one million are uninsured. Last year, family planning health centers in New Jersey provided reproductive and preventive health care to 126,903 women and 9,461 men; breast examinations to 70,506 women; and pap tests to 65,252 women. Overall, they served 97,129 women and men without health insurance.
But more importantly, family planning agencies serve as the primary provider of comprehensive health care services for many people. For nearly 140,000 patients, family planning agencies are their only link to 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.
Women’s health should not be held hostage by one person’s ideology or the propaganda spread by anti-abortion groups, especially as none of the money previously appropriated for family planning services was used to provide abortion services nor would any money be allocated for that purpose in the future.
New Jersey has long been a pioneer when it comes to innovative health care services. We served as a nationwide model for Medicaid reform and successfully fought the efforts of the Bush administration to restrict access to health insurance for low-income families.
Now, we are taking a giant leap backward as one of only a handful of states in the nation not providing funding to family planning agencies this year, while also refusing to accept federal funding to help more Medicaid recipients obtain these services.
Gov. Christie will deliver his budget address later this month marking a year since he first alerted New Jersey that he would follow his personal ideology instead of acting in the best interest of the state.
While my Democratic colleagues in the Legislature and I lost this round to Governor Christie and special interests devoted to eradicating family planning services in our state, I promise that I will continue advocating for women’s health funding until the cuts are restored.