UPDATE: Gov. Phil Murphy announced in a tele-town hall conference Monday that he plans to sign into law bills that will restore $7.45 million to women's health care centers and extend eligibility for people to get family planning services under Medicaid.

The bills got final approval last week in the New Jersey Assembly. 

Murphy said restoring the funding and making women's reproductive health care a priority in the state budget "is the right thing to do, and not only that, is the smart thing to do," he said in the tele-town hall, organized by members of New Jersey's Planned Parenthood network.

Murphy plans to sign the bills Wednesday morning at the Trenton War Memorial with Cecile Richards, president of the national Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

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State funding for women’s health services that was cut under Gov. Chris Christie may be restored following the passage of legislation Thursday in the New Jersey Assembly.

Lawmakers, the majority Democrats, passed a two-bill package last week that would restore $7.45 million for women’s health centers and expand the income threshold for families to receive family planning services under Medicaid.

They anticipate Gov. Phil Murphy will sign the bills. Previous attempts at restoration have made it through the Assembly and Senate, but Christie vetoed them each time.

“We’ve made this legislation one of our first priorities for the new legislative session now that we have a governor who is willing to sign it,” Assemblyman Vince Mazzo, D-Atlantic, said in a statement.

Democrats have tried to restore the money for the past eight years since Christie put an end to all state funding to family planning facilities in 2010. The Planned Parenthood network in New Jersey stood to lose the largest amount of funding and stands to regain that money if Murphy signs the bill.

Planned Parenthood officials said the cuts immediately resulted in six location closings in Burlington, Camden, Cumberland, Hudson and Morris counties, and other locations have had to cut services, staff or hours.

They also correlated the cuts with a statewide increase in cases of sexual transmitted infections, but there is no direct link. Federal data and reports show rates of sexually transmitted diseases and infections have hit another record high across the country, not just locally.

Christine Sadovy, legislative and political director with Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, said the restoration will “get New Jersey back on the right track when it comes to reproductive health.”

More than 90 percent of the organization’s services are preventive and include birth control, STD testing and treatment, cancer screenings and visits to its 25 locations in New Jersey, officials said, all made possible with help from federal funding.

Planned Parenthood also is one of the largest providers in the nation for abortions, which made up about 3 percent of all its services nationwide, according to the nonprofit’s 2014-15 annual report. Revenue from abortion services is not included in those reports.

The 1976 Hyde Amendment prevents federal dollars from being used for abortions, but the controversial procedure remains at the crux of a decades-long fight between legislators, anti-abortion activists and abortion supporters.

Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, testified last week in Trenton opposing the passage of the bill. She said after attending eight years of budget meetings at the state level, there was no reason to believe women’s health care needs were not being met.

“It they (Planned Parenthood) were seeing a decrease in patients served, it is probably because they were getting better, comprehensive care at a federally qualified health center,” she said.

Tasy said because Planned Parenthood has been under scrutiny for things such as a lack of transparency regarding income from abortions, its budgeting process and investigations at the federal level, the funding should not go to those centers.

Assemblywomen Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, and Nancy Munoz, R-Union, criticized Planned Parenthood in recent committee meetings for not releasing details on the organization’s budgeting and financial spending, or plans on how the funding money would be spent.

Despite pushback to the bill, the majority of legislators voted to restore the funds. The bill package now awaits Murphy’s signature.

“The passage of these bills signifies a milestone for New Jersey: women’s access to reproductive health care is recognized as an essential service, not trivialized as a political symbol,” Dianna Houenou, of American Civil Liberties Union—New Jersey’s Policy Counsel, said in a statement.

Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

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