Attorney general announces actions to protect reproductive healthcare providers and women seeking abortions in New Jersey

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced several actions Wednesday aimed at facilitating access to abortion care in New Jersey, protecting health care providers, and safeguarding patients’ privacy in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturning Roe v. Wade.  

Platkin issued a letter to state licensing boards that clarifies their obligations under a new law that protects New Jersey health care practitioners from being disciplined for performing an abortion or abortion-related services, and that also prohibits licensing boards and other public entities from participating in interstate investigations or proceedings that seek to penalize abortion providers.

He also issued guidance to healthcare providers on how they can best secure patient data and protect the privacy of those who seek or receive an abortion.

The state also issues a consumer alert to warn the public about crisis pregnancy centers, which are organizations that seek to prevent people from accessing abortion care, sometimes by providing false or misleading information about the safety and legality of abortion.  

“Our state is deeply committed to protecting the rights of those who provide and receive reproductive services, and our office will continue to use every available resource to protect access to abortion care here in New Jersey,” Platkin said. “The actions we are announcing today will provide vital information to patients and health care providers in order to facilitate unobstructed access to abortion services in New Jersey.”  

The actions come in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, which overruled nearly half a century of settled precedent and held that the U.S. Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion.  A week after the Dobbs decision, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation establishing critical protections for patients and providers. For patients, the legislation helps ensure that confidential patient information related to reproductive care remains protected from disclosure. For providers, the legislation prohibits New Jersey’s professional licensing boards from taking disciplinary action against healthcare practitioners who provide reproductive health care that is lawful in New Jersey. To explain the obligations New Jersey law now imposes on its professional licensing boards, Platkin Wednesday issued a letter to the Board of Medical Examiners, the Board of Nursing, the Board of Pharmacy, the Physician Assistant Advisory Committee, and the Midwifery Liaison Committee. The letter clarifies, among other things, that:

Professional licensing boards are prohibited from disciplining a licensee or denying an application for licensure based solely on the fact that the licensee or applicant provided abortion care. As a result, boards cannot discipline a licensee or deny an application for licensure based solely on the fact that an individual faces disciplinary or criminal actions for providing abortion care in a state where abortion is illegal, or for providing abortion care in New Jersey to residents of states that have banned or severely restricted abortion.

The law protects licensees who provide abortion care directly, and also those who authorize, participate in, refer for, or assist with any health care, medical service, or procedure that is related to an abortion. That means the boards cannot discipline a licensee or deny a licensure application based solely on the fact that the person helped someone who lives in another state where abortion is illegal obtain abortion care —whether by providing a referral to an abortion provider, providing information regarding abortion care options, providing travel assistance, or by other means.

The law prohibits state entities, including professional licensing boards,  from cooperating with interstate investigations or proceedings that seek to impose civil or criminal liability on a person or entity for, among other things, seeking, receiving, providing, assisting with the provision of, or responding to inquiries about reproductive care.  

The Division of Consumer Affairs is also disseminating an alert to healthcare providers that emphasizes the steps providers should take to secure patient data related to reproductive care in the wake of the Dobbs decision. To ensure that healthcare practitioners protect their data and patient data, the alert advises practitioners to: Avoid collecting unnecessary data in the first place by practicing “data minimization,” collecting and retaining “only the information necessary to treat patients”; reduce the data they collect by opting not to install on their websites tracking, analytics, and marketing tools that automatically collect and share user data with third parties; and to take reasonable steps to safeguard the information they collect and store online, including by keeping all security software up to date, requiring multi-factor authentication for online accounts, encrypting stored protected health information and other sensitive information, securely deleting information before discarding or reusing computers or digital devices, and training all employees in digital safety, including how to recognize phishing attempts and other red flags to prevent data breaches.

The Division of Consumer Affairs also issued a consumer alert Wednesday warning the public that crisis pregnancy centers do not provide abortion care and that they may not even provide any health care at all. The alert further warns consumers that many centers do not employ licensed medical professionals. This means that staff at such centers may not be required to keep patient health information private or follow medical ethics rules and standards of care. The centers may also be providing false or misleading information about abortion—including the physical and mental health effects of abortion — to deter people from choosing abortion. The alert also provides tips on how to spot a crisis pregnancy center, what questions individuals considering abortions should ask to determine whether the organization they are contacting is a crisis pregnancy center, and how to find an abortion provider.

“By protecting reproductive care providers and women who travel to our state for such care, New Jersey will become a refuge for those seeking these critical services,” Governor Phil Murphy said. “My Administration will continue to make true on its promises to all women seeking the reproductive care they need and will set a standard for reproductive health care across our nation.”