Debate moderators must ask New Jersey gubernatorial candidates about abortion


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

The first debate did not include any questions about abortion

Moderators didn’t ask any questions about abortion during New Jersey’s first 2017 gubernatorial debate. The first New Jersey gubernatorial debate was held on October 10 and was moderated by local ABC anchors Sade Baderinwa and Jim Gardner, with NJ Advance Media reporter Matt Arco also asking several questions. During the course of the debate, the moderators failed to ask any questions relating to abortion. The only mention of reproductive health care came in Democratic candidate Phil Murphy’s closing statement, when he mentioned his desire to make New Jersey “a state that stands for the right things like funding Planned Parenthood.” [C-SPAN, 10/10/17; NJ.com, 10/10/17]

Many new anti-choice restrictions are imposed at the state level

Broadly: Since 2010, “338 laws that restrict reproductive rights” and abortion access “have been enacted” at the state level. Since 2010, “338 laws that restrict reproductive rights” and abortion access “have been enacted” at the state level, according to Gabby Bess in a January 2017 article for Broadly. Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, explained to Bess that experts didn’t “see this trend reversing anytime soon” regardless of who controls the presidency. As Nash told Bess, “It’s been hard to remind people that the restrictions aren’t just going to be at the federal level”; in fact, “the composition [of state legislatures] was so far skewed right already, it looks like we will have another year where abortion and restrictions on family planning are on the front burner” at the state level. From Broadly:

The analysis, conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, notes that this has been happening for a long time as Republican-led state legislatures have continued their project of steadily dismantling abortion rights. A total of 338 laws that restrict reproductive rights have been enacted since the Republicans took control of the majority of state governments in 2010. Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, doesn’t see this trend reversing anytime soon—and not just because of President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration.

“It’s been hard to remind people that the restrictions aren’t just going to be at the federal level,” Nash said over the phone. Over the past six years, she explained, state laws restricting abortion have not slowed. In 2015, 57 anti-abortion restrictions were passed, and while the 50 passed this year may seem like a slight reduction, Nash says that we shouldn’t expect the assault on reproductive rights to diminish.

“One of the disturbing things is that 50 restrictions were enacted in a year when a handful of state legislatures weren’t in session,” she explained. “We typically see more enactments [of anti-abortion laws] in the first year of the session.” The reason for this is because some state legislatures, like Texas, meet biennially, on odd-numbered years. Lawmakers in those states weren’t able to introduce any new bills last year, but now the floodgates are open. “That’s why we saw 92 [restrictions] in 2011, 70 in 2013, 57 in 2015,” she said.

Adding to the grim prospects for 2017, Iowa and Kentucky can now count themselves among the majority of states with Republicans in complete control of their legislatures. “Given that the composition [of state legislatures] was so far skewed right already, it looks like we will have another year where abortion and restrictions on family planning are on the front burner,” Nash explained. [Broadly, 1/3/17]

Guttmacher Institute: From January to June 2017, “legislators in six states introduced measures to ban all abortions,” while “legislators in 28 states introduced” more limited restrictions. In a July 2017 evaluation of state-level policymaking on abortion access and reproductive rights, the Guttmacher Institute found that in the first half of 2017, “legislators in six states introduced measures to ban all abortions,” and “legislators in 28 states introduced measures to ban abortions under some circumstances.” The report noted that although some states were successfully passing protections for abortion access, the overwhelming trend at the state level was toward restricting abortion and broader reproductive health care. [Guttmacher Institute, 7/13/17]

Republican candidate Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s public statements about abortion have been inconsistent

Guadagno has said she is “not in favor of abortions” but that she is “pro-choice” and repeated the anti-choice talking point that “abortions should not be funded with taxpayer money.” In the second GOP primary debate for governor, Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said, “As a woman, I am not in favor of abortions, but I am pro-choice.” Guadagno echoed this characterization in the second GOP primary debate, where she explained that she didn’t “believe government has a place in my home, what I do with my body.” In addition, according to NJTV, Guadagno has said she will not restore funds to Planned Parenthood in New Jersey, which were cut while she served as lieutenant governor under Chris Christie. Guadagno also repeated a common, but inaccurate, anti-choice talking point, arguing that “when it comes to Planned Parenthood, look, private entities should not be funded with taxpayer money. Abortions should not be funded with taxpayer money.” [NJ.com, 6/8/17; NJTV, 5/19/17]

According to NY Times, Guadagno supports abortion rights. In a June 25 article, The New York Times claimed that Guadagno “supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights.” Similarly, NJ.com reported in January 2017 that “Guadagno supports abortion rights, though she has said she would like to see fewer women choose the option.” [The New York Times, 6/25/17; NJ.com, 1/17/17]

Murphy’s position on abortion is unclear, despite support for Planned Parenthood

During a roundtable with women’s health advocates, Murphy expressed his support for Planned Parenthood but did not mention abortion access. According to NJ.com, Murphy “hosted a roundtable discussion with women’s health advocates, including Planned Parenthood.” However, as NJ.com noted, the conversation was limited to praise for the other health services Planned Parenthood provides and did not include discussion about abortion. While Murphy has not made any public statements on abortion, during the roundtable, Murphy called restoring Planned Parenthood’s funding “literally No. 1” or among the “top tier” of his priorities, if elected. In April, Murphy also released a statement on his campaign website pledging his support for Planned Parenthood:

These kinds of political games with women’s health will stop when I am governor. Not only will I never block any federal funds, I will restore the funding Governor Christie stripped from Planned Parenthood in his relentless assault on women’s health. If President Trump and the GOP want to put the health of women across the country at risk, we will stand up to them each and every time. In New Jersey, under my leadership, we will get back to being the state that supports women. [NJ.com, 6/8/17; Phil Murphy Democrat for Governor, 4/14/17]

Murphy attacked one of the Republican health care bills for seeking to “ban all Medicaid reimbursements for any health care providers that provide abortions.” In a March press release, Murphy slammed one of the proposed Republican health care bills for attempting to “prohibit any insurance plans that offer abortion coverage from receiving federal tax credits.” Murphy noted that by seeking to “ban all Medicaid reimbursements for any health care providers that provide abortions,” the GOP bill was an attempt to replace quality care “with politically motivated government” interference. [Phil Murphy Democrat for Governor, 3/8/17]

During the 2013 gubernatorial election debates, moderators did not ask about abortion

During the 2013 election cycle debates, moderators did not ask any questions about abortion. Media Matters reviewed all New Jersey gubernatorial debates during the 2013 election through C-SPAN. This analysis showed that no moderator asked a question about abortion or reproductive health care. The only question asked about reproductive health care came from Democratic candidate Barbara Buono, who asked Republican candidate Chris Christie in October 2013 about his efforts to “slash 7.5 million dollars” in Planned Parenthood funding:

BARBARA BUONO: When you first came into office, governor, one of the first things you did was to slash 7.5 million dollars for Planned Parenthood. You closed Planned Parenthood centers across New Jersey. 33,000 less women were getting the needed care, preventive health care that they needed such as a cancer screenings. And you said that it was duplicative. Are women getting too much health care? [C-SPAN, 10/8/13; C-SPAN 10/15/13]

Methodology

Media Matters searched available transcripts for debates held during the current election cycle, as well as the 2013 gubernatorial election, on C-SPAN using the terms abortion, Roe, Wade, birth control, contraception, pro-choice, pro-life, life of the mother, right to choose, sanctity of life, culture of life, Planned Parenthood, pregnant, repro, woman, and women to identify all questions posed to candidates about abortion-related topics.

Source: https://www.mediamatters.org/research/2017/10/18/Debate-moderators-must-ask-New-Jersey-gubernatorial-candidates-about-abortion/218249