N.J. Democrats renew effort to restore funding for family-planning centers

Posted: November 09, 2010

TRENTON - Democratic state lawmakers on Monday renewed their charge to restore funding for family-planning centers statewide, pushing back against the Christie administration's opposition.

Gov. Christie eliminated all $7.5 million in state funding to 58 family-planning health centers in the state budget of $29.4 billion this year, saying the state could not afford the amount.

Family-planning centers last year provided services to more than 130,000 women and men, including prenatal care, birth control, Pap smears, and breast exams.

Abortion opponents cheered the funding cut as a blow to facilities that provide abortions, although lawmakers had specified that state money could not be used to fund abortions.

Democrats have since made repeated efforts to restore at least some money, including an unsuccessful attempt to override the governor's veto of a restoration of funding. Democrats need Republican support in the Legislature to override the governor's vetoes.

On Monday, the Assembly Appropriations Committee cleared a bill to shift $5 million in unspent funds from last year's state allocation to county correctional facilities to the family-planning centers.

"This legislation reaffirms our commitment to being fiscally prudent, while maintaining our commitment to provide access to health care for women and families across New Jersey," said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D., Camden). "The new funding we have identified is budget-neutral and would otherwise sit idle while women and families suffer and go without critically needed health care."

Since the start of the fiscal year in July, two family-planning clinics in Burlington County and a satellite office in Camden County have been closed as a result of the funding cuts, said Michelle Jaker, executive director of the Family Planning Association of New Jersey.

"Unless we take action today, more agencies will announce more closures, layoffs, and hour reductions by the end of the year," Jaker told the committee. "All of this has an impact on the number of patients who will be seen."

Jaker said that last year, family-planning centers in New Jersey had provided more than 70,000 breast exams and more than 65,000 Pap smears.

Together, the 58 family-planning centers estimate the budget cuts will mean they will serve 40,000 fewer clients this year, Jaker said.

Abortion opponents argued that despite the prohibition against spending state dollars on abortions, restoration of funding would result in more abortions.

John Tomicki, executive director of the League of American Families, said if lawmakers wanted to be clear on the issue, they should write the law so that state funding could not go to any entities that perform or counsel patients on abortions.

But supporters of the bill argued that by providing contraceptive services, family-planning centers help prevent unwanted pregnancies and therefore reduce the number of abortions.

The Appropriations Committee also approved a companion bill that would require the state to apply for expanded Medicaid coverage of family-planning services. The state's application, started under the administration of Gov. Jon S. Corzine, was withdrawn under the Christie administration, according to the bill's supporters.

Twenty-seven states have been approved for such expanded coverage, said bill sponsor Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D., Bergen), which would give the state $9 in federal reimbursements for every $1 spent.

"The governor told us it is not an ideological issue, it is an issue of funding," Huttle said.

Both bills head next to the Assembly for a floor vote.

Contact staff writer Adrienne Lu at 609-989-8990 or alu@phillynews.com.

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