By Donald Gilpin
There was anger, outrage, concern, fear, and in some quarters joy, but little surprise in Princeton in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last Friday, June 24, to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
There were a number of rallies over the weekend in the northern part of the state, demonstrators protesting the elimination of women’s right to choose and warning of dangerous results for women’s health. Anti-abortion advocates, though much less visible in the area than their opponents, applauded the decision, and in Trenton on Saturday a gathering on the steps of the Statehouse Annex celebrated the overturning of Roe with a “Rally for Life and Justice.”
With individual states now determining whether they allow abortion, it will remain legal in New Jersey and in 23 other states. Gov. Phil Murphy — who signed a law, the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, in January, ensuring that abortion remains legal in New Jersey — denounced the U.S. Supreme Court decision and urged New Jersey lawmakers to further expand abortion access in the state.
“While New Jersey planned for this eventuality by codifying a woman’s right to an abortion under state law, it is incumbent that we do more to fully secure reproductive rights and ensure access to reproductive health care without delay,” Murphy said. “Until we do, my administration will take the necessary steps to fully protect both New Jersey’s women and those who come to our state to access the freedom which may no longer exist in their home state.”
About six weeks ago, a draft majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito of the decision to overturn Roe was leaked, prompting demonstrations across the country, including a gathering of more than 500 at Princeton’s Hinds Plaza on May 14. Organized by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey (PPAFNJ), the demonstration drew abortion rights supporters from across the state and beyond.
Princeton University issued a statement on the afternoon of June 24, following the announcement of the Supreme Court decision, asserting that “Princeton University health care and benefits for employees and students located in New Jersey are not affected by the ruling given current New Jersey law.”
The statement went on to note that the University is still assessing how the ruling will affect Princeton University community members outside of New Jersey.
In addition to Alito, a 1972 Princeton University graduate who wrote the majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, two other Princeton University alumni, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, are members of the U.S. Supreme Court. Kagan, a 1981 Princeton graduate, and Sotomayor, a 1976 graduate, were among the three justices who dissented in the 6-3 decision.
A number of Princeton University professors responded to last Friday’s decision in comments on the University’s School of Public and International Affairs website.
“Americans have woken up to the fact that the majority of this country supports legalized access to abortion,” wrote Psychology and Public Affairs Professor Elizabeth Levy Paluck. “After the initial leak of the Dobbs opinion, Americans saw the extent of this support. Now, public reactions to the overturning of Roe will make it crystal clear: the Court has disregarded the preferences of the majority of people across the country.”
Elizabeth Mitchell Armstrong, associate professor of sociology and public affairs, pointed out public health consequences of the ruling. “The best guarantor of fetal health and well-being is maternal health and well-being,” she wrote. “Paradoxically, states with the most restrictive abortion regulations also have the highest rates of maternal mortality, severe maternal morbidity, and infant mortality, and some of the worst racial disparities in maternal and infant health. Genuinely pro-life policies would aim to close those gaps, reduce the deaths of all mothers and babies, and preserve families.”
Politics Professor Paul Frymer emphasized the impact of the decision on the democratic process and the rights of “targeted” vulnerable populations. “Past landmark decisions were made to defend the rights of people who were not adequately represented by electoral politics,” he said. “Given how many of these populations being targeted by the Supreme Court are vulnerable to both electoral and legislative majorities, it’s a worry that regaining these rights through more democratic avenues will not be so easy, no matter how popular the ideas and practices are across the country.”
In an email to her constituents, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman wrote, “While we may have known this was coming, it does not make it any easier. This is an absolutely devastating time for our country, and for women in particular. I steadfastly believe that the ability of anyone to make choices regarding their own body is a fundamental constitutional right. Unfortunately, the right-wing court does not agree.”
She went on to emphasize the disproportionate burden that will be imposed on those unable to afford basic health care. “The consequences of overturning Roe will be most burdensome for those Americans who already face systemic barriers accessing health care, especially women of color,” she said. “While the wealthy few will always be able to receive abortion care, others will be forced to give birth against their will.”
New Jersey State Sen. Andrew Zwicker also lamented the Supreme Court decision, but pointed out that the state recently passed the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act that ensures that abortion is still legal and available in New Jersey.
“We are all angry and upset that the Court has turned back the clock 50 years,” Zwicker wrote in an email. “The fight will continue, and we will not rest until every woman in this country has control of her own reproductive health care.”
Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes also weighed in in opposition to what he called a “backward decision by the Court.” He emphasized that reproductive health care rights of women in New Jersey would continue to be protected, and he urged residents “to act and make your voice heard.”
“We must send a message to our leaders making clear that we expect them to protect a woman’s right to choose and ensure that no woman or girl is denied that right,” said Hughes. “This decision could have consequences beyond abortion rights. Let this moment in time energize us to go to the polls and vote for candidates who protect instead of erode the rights of all.”