On the first day of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, right-wing attendees gathered to discuss how to get pro-life Republicans elected in blue states. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was held up as a prime example — applause erupting to praise the potential presidential contender for vetoing funding for Planned Parenthood five times over the past five years.
“I ran as a pro-life candidate in 2009 unapologetically, spoke at the rally on the steps of the statehouse. I was the first governor to ever speak at a pro-life rally on the steps of the statehouse in the state of New Jersey,” Christie told the approving crowd. “And I vetoed Planned Parenthood funding five times out of the New Jersey budget.”
Christie does present a good case study in what can happen when anti-choice lawmakers head traditionally left-leaning states. Although many Americans may not equate New Jersey with a place like Texas, which has dominated the headlines for its recent policies that have thrown reproductive health clinics into disarray, the family planning landscape in Christie’s state is bleak.
In 2010, Christie eliminated all family planning funding in New Jersey, cutting off $7.5 million that used to support 58 clinics. Thanks to midterm elections that ushered in a wave of GOP lawmakers, a lot of states started cutting their family planning budgets in 2010. But New Jersey was the only one to eliminate state funding altogether. The Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that tracks state-level policies related to reproductive rights, called it a “drastic measure.”
It was a sharp departure for the progressive state. As the New Jersey Spotlight reported at the time, “For a state that began financially backing family-planning clinics in 1967, increased grants nearly every year since then, and endeavored to build a network accessible to all women in every county, it’s a 180-degree turn.”
Since then, New Jersey has never truly recovered. According to data compiled by the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), which represents Title X providers across the country, there has been more than a 25 percent decrease in the state network’s capacity to meet the need for family planning services among New Jersey’s impoverished residents. Nine health centers have been forced to close.
The state legislature has repeatedly attempted to restore the funding cuts, but Christie has resisted every year. Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D) has accused the governor of trying to drag New Jersey back to the 1950s in order to pander to the social conservatives who might support a 2016 presidential run.
“It is shameful that the governor is playing politics with the health of the women of New Jersey,” Weinberg said in 2013 after Christie rejected her proposal to reverse the cuts. “Women and families in communities across New Jersey have lost access to cancer screenings, prenatal care, STD testing and treatment and birth control.”
At the same time, the federal Title X funds available for family planning clinics have been shrinking, too. After the most recent economic recession, as more Americans slipped into poverty, Title X’s patient load increased, but its budget didn’t.
“Over the past few years, the family planning network in New Jersey has been hit by a triple whammy of federal funding cuts and an elimination of the state funding program on top of a tough climate for nonprofits where fundraising has declined nationwide,” Clare Coleman, the president of NFPRHA, told ThinkProgress via email. “While we work at the federal level to restore funding, we urge similar action in New Jersey and other states to invest in family planning care.”
Although Christie couches his position on family planning funding in the language of the GOP’s war on Planned Parenthood, supporting family planning isn’t antithetical to Republicans’ priorities. Some GOP leaders recognize the financial benefits of Title X. Earlier this year, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI)’s audit of federal anti-poverty programs acknowledged that the program is “moderately effective” at providing low-income women with health services.