Murphy reverses Christie, approves $7.5M for women's health

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- New Jersey's new Democratic governor signed legislation Wednesday setting aside about $7.5 million for family-planning and women's health, reversing course on former Republican Gov. Chris Christie's handling of the issue.

It's the first bill that Gov. Phil Murphy has signed into law since succeeding Christie, who vetoed the spending throughout his two terms.

"Today we are saying in a clear voice that New Jersey will once again stand for the right things," Murphy said. "New Jersey will once again stand up for women's health."

Murphy signed the legislation alongside legislative and Planned Parenthood leaders, including Cecile Richards, the outgoing president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She said Murphy's signature represents the start of a "new era."

Christie opposed the legislation, saying that it circumvented the regular budget process. The funding for providers like Planned Parenthood is a small fraction of the state's nearly $35 billion budget.

Democrats who control the Legislature said funding is needed for preventive care, including breast and cervical cancer screenings and praised the bill's passage. Murphy said six family planning centers closed over the years since the funding dried up.

Republicans questioned the expenditure because Planned Parenthood also makes political expenditures through its political action group. The legislation bars funding from being used for abortions.

Planned Parenthood offers a range of health services at clinics nationwide, including birth control, cancer screenings and tests for sexually transmitted diseases. It is also a leading provider of abortions, a role that means it is in regular conflict with conservatives.

That was on display Wednesday, with Murphy pointing out that his victory showed that "elections have consequences." Richards, who has said she's stepping down but remaining through the midterms, said the group will "play offense" on the question of getting funding for family planning.

The eight-year wait to restore the funding was a pointed theme. Murphy thanked a host of lawmakers for passing the legislation and focused at one point on sponsor Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who introduced the bill each year of Christie's term.

"If there's a motto that we can ascribe to you I think it is this: If at first you don't succeed try, try, try and try, try, try and try and try again," he said.

Under the bill, public funds don't go directly to Planned Parenthood but instead go to the state Department of Health for Family Planning Services, which offers grants.

Republican Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi said she would have voted for the bill but changed her mind and abstained after the state Planned Parenthood declined to "open its books" so lawmakers could see how it spends its money.

Murphy said on the day he took office that signing the legislation was a top priority, and Wednesday's bill signing was held at the ornate art deco War Memorial in Trenton, contrasting with the office-like media room in which Murphy has signed executive orders.

He also signed a second measure aimed at providing Medicaid coverage for contraception to low-income residents. The governor also announced that he's loosening a state restriction by New Jersey's Medicaid provider on long-acting, reversible contraception, such as intrauterine devices.