Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation Wednesday that restores $7.5 million in grants for health clinics and Planned Parenthood that were stripped from the state’s budget since 2010 under former Gov. Chris Christie.
It was the first bill Murphy, a Democrat, signed into law after taking office to succeed Christie, a Republican, more than a month ago.
Murphy also signed his second piece of legislation, which makes contraceptive available to women on Medicaid.
“I don’t have to tell you all that today has certainly been a long time coming,” Murphy said. “New Jersey will once again stand strong for Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights.”
The bill signing took place inside Trenton’s War Memorial across from the Statehouse, where more than 100 people, many donning pink shirts and pink Planned Parenthood pins, gave the new governor a standing ovation.
“Signed, sealed, delivered,” Murphy said after he took his pen to the legislation.
The advocates, well-wishers and supporters of Murphy’s inaugural signing included Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
“Elections do have consequences and nothing has been more exciting than to see this governor in action, because today marks a new era,” Richards said. “Today is a good day in New Jersey.”
Planned Parenthood has long been a lightning rod issue among voters opposed to abortion. But Murphy pledged during the campaign to restore the funding Christie nixed.
In 2010, Christie vetoed $7.5 million in funding for family planning clinics, saying they were duplicative and the state couldn’t afford it. From his veto message: “In these extraordinary economic times, the state does not have additional monies available to provide duplicative funding for family planning centers.”
That amounted to some $60 million in lost funding over the course of Christie’s tenure.
Six of the 58 clinics in New Jersey closed and 14 others scaled back their hours and services after losing their share of the grant money, according to a report by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Christie would go on to make the same veto every time members of the Democratic-controlled Legislature sent him a bill that aimed to fund the clinics.
And with his re-election for governor in Democratic-heavy New Jersey safely behind him and a presidential campaign looming, Christie suddenly changed his reason for stripping the funding.
“I’ve vetoed funding for Planned Parenthood and if I were president of the United States I would do exactly the same,” Christie told voters in South Carolina in 2015.
New Jersey Right to Life, which supported Christie’s cuts, blasted Murphy on Wednesday.
“If anyone is playing politics, it is Gov. Murphy, who boastfully, as his first act as governor, signs bills that will use our tax dollars to reward a political, partisan organization that helped elect him,” Marie Tasy, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.
At Wednesday’s bill signing ceremony, U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12th, who was a staunch critic of Christie when she served in the state Assembly, declared: “Thank God that we had an election,”
State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who long chastised Christie over the cuts, praised the new governor. She described their conversation ahead of the bill signing: “Governor Murphy said ‘Are you ready to roll?’ And I said, ‘I’ve been ready to roll for eight years,'” Weinberg, D-Bergen, said.
“Thank you, Governor Murphy,” Weinberg added.
Before the cuts, the grants were split among 58 clinics, including some run by Planned Parenthood, to pay for preventive health screenings and birth control.
The law prevents the money to be used for abortions, but organizations like New Jersey Right to Life protested, arguing no abortion provider should benefit from public funding.
Murphy called on supporters to celebrate the victory despite eight years of setbacks.
“I know the stroke of a pen could not reduce eight years of neglect,” Murphy said. “But turning our state around to standing for the right values starts here, starts now (and) starts with us.”
NJ Advance Media staff writer Susan K. Livio contributed to this report.
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