Five years after Gov. Christie cut $7.5 million in family-planning clinic funding from the state budget, advocates for the clinics are calling on Republican legislators who voted to uphold Christie's veto of the funding in previous years to reconsider their stance if he vetoes it again.
They say that's because his stated reason for opposing the funding has shifted - from the budgetary impact to reflecting social-conservative beliefs.
In calling to restore the money, Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) said funding Planned Parenthood and other women's health centers reflects the state's values.
"Is this about budgets, or is it about appealing to the most right wing of the Republican Party?" Weinberg said of Christie's position.
She said her message to legislators is: "Those of you who voted year after year after year to uphold the governor's veto because it was a budget issue, you know very well this is not a budget issue."
Christie cut the funding in his first year as governor and has repeatedly vetoed it since. The cuts led to six clinics closing in 2010, including Planned Parenthood clinics in Cherry Hill and Dover, independent clinics in Bayonne and Millville, and Burlington County Department of Health clinics in Westampton and Pemberton Township.
Christie has argued publicly that federal qualified health centers can meet the needs of the women who were served by the closed centers. He also wrote in a series of annual veto messages that he opposed the funding because of fiscal constraints.
But Christie changed his public position in February, when he linked the vetoes to his opposition to abortion. The governor made the same point when he spoke last week at a conference sponsored by the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
"When they send me Planned Parenthood funding year after year after year - and I am the first governor to ever veto Planned Parenthood funding out of the budget - there is no room for compromise there," Christie told the conservative gathering.
Advocates for the centers have noted that the funding was not used for abortions but for a wide range of other services, including screenings for breast and cervical cancers.
Roslyn Rogers Collins, president and CEO of Newark-based Planned Parenthood of Metro New Jersey, said the 2010 cuts reduced her organization's budget by $1.2 million annually, or 18 percent. This cut continues to reverberate five years later, Collins said, and was a factor in the organization's decision to shut one of its clinics in December.
If the funding were to be restored, Collins said, her organization would look to expand services, assess "where the need is greatest in our service areas, and [do] all we can do to accommodate the women who we're not able to see."
Kathleen Fisher, president and CEO of the Family Planning Center of Ocean County, said her organization is "holding on by a shoestring."
"We're a smaller agency; we have two sites - one in Lakewood and one in Manahawkin - and our Manahawkin site is definitely in jeopardy," Fisher said. "We've made all the adjustments that we can make, and without that site, it's a really scary thought," because there would not be a family planning center for many miles.
"That's devastating for women who need easy access to that type of service," she said.
Lynn Brown, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern New Jersey, said, "It was shocking in New Jersey to have a governor suddenly redline one of the most important services in the state budget. And when you stop and think about it, $7.5 million is not a lot of money for what it returns in terms of other societal issues."
Brown said that the family planning centers complement the work of federally qualified health centers, but do not duplicate it.
"We can't live without them. They have a special, special niche in the public-health sector - as do Planned Parenthoods and family planning centers," Brown said. "In most communities, we are such collaborative partners. They depend on the family planning centers, because we're the experts at reproductive health. We're so important to that fabric of public health."
Planned Parenthood held a rally Monday in Trenton, arguing that the cuts to family planning worsened statewide problems with health-care access for women and families.
In addition to a bill restoring $7.45 million for family planning services, Weinberg is proposing legislation that would expand Medicaid coverage for family planning to women who are not pregnant.
Fisher noted that the state is losing federal matching funds due to Christie's opposition to that bill, which would expand Medicaid family planning services to women with incomes between 138 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty line.
"Right now, we are leaving federal dollars on the table that women, families, and all taxpayers in New Jersey need," Fisher said.
Brown asked Christie and legislators to visit a Planned Parenthood clinic and observe the challenges faced by underfunded facilities.
"Look at all the people that fill every chair in our waiting rooms every day," Brown said.