Abortion is completely legal in New Jersey, both for those who live in the state and those who come from out of state to receive the procedure. But one new guide published by the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest, an offshoot of prominent law firm Lowenstein Sandler, warns there may still be dangers for out-of-state residents seeking abortions in New Jersey and for those who assist them.
In three separate guides to frequently asked questions for patients, employers, and “helpers”—those who help others out of state to have abortions—the center notes that zealous legislation in States where abortion is restricted or banned could end up targeting abortions performed in New Jersey.
“It is normally safe for a person to travel to a state and to engage in lawful conduct in the state the person is visiting,” the FAQ for Helpers says. “There is a risk, however, that the normal rules will not prevent prosecutors in other states from trying to apply their existing criminal laws to prevent people from helping residents of prohibition states obtain legal abortions in other states. We don’t yet know how the courts in the banning states will react to such law enforcement tactics.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down the constitutional right to abortion left the matter up to individual states, and New Jersey, like most Democratic-controlled states, has maintained full abortion access. within its borders.
Governor Phil Murphy also recently signed legislation prohibiting the state from assisting in out-of-state abortion investigations, protecting people from extradition in most cases, and ensuring that private health information remains private, laws that could become an important safeguard if other states target abortions performed in New Jersey. (Other legislation creation of a public abortion fundamong other things, has so far stalled.)
But as the Lowenstein Center noted, New Jersey’s laws have some exceptions, and it’s not yet clear how other states’ laws — many of which are rapidly changing — will be interpreted and applied.
“Those who help these out-of-state patients obtain care in New Jersey may become targets for opponents of legal abortion in other states,” the FAQ says. “The risk may be low, and you’re lucky to be in New Jersey, where the state has taken significant steps to protect you… But the risk still exists.”
Although no state has so far made it directly illegal for its residents to obtain abortions in other states, there are a number of other responsibilities that could fall on patients and those assisting them.
The center cited financially assisting minors to travel to New Jersey for abortions and receiving New Jersey abortion drugs while living in a state that prohibits abortion, among other activities, as particularly risky. Many states have also allowed private citizens to sue individuals for facilitating access to abortion, which could apply to New Jerseyans in certain circumstances.
Asked if the governor is considering new legislation that might address some of those issues, Murphy’s spokeswoman Alyana Alfaro said he’s open to further discussions.
“Governor Murphy believes that protecting reproductive freedom is essential,” Alfaro said. “We continue to evaluate how we can protect access to reproductive rights in New Jersey and welcome ideas that will advance this mission.”
The center noted that, regardless of the risks involved, it has no intention of deterring foreigners from coming to New Jersey or New Jerseyans from helping them — only to make them aware of the potential risks, including many remain highly volatile or unknowable. .
“Our goal is not to dissuade you, but to inform and help you identify when an individual risk assessment is particularly important,” the FAQ says.