The Murphy administration on Wednesday approved lifting regulations on abortions that barred them from happening in a doctor’s office beyond 14 weeks of pregnancy and allowing as many as 15,000 nurses, physician assistants and midwives to perform the procedure. 

The new rules contain elements of a bill Gov. Phil Murphy supports to enshrine a woman’s right to abortion into law should the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which says a woman has the constitutional right to an abortion, be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But that bill Murphy supports, the Reproductive Freedom Act, includes many more protections and would expand access to birth control and pregnancy care, which he says are under threat.

“At a time when other states are creating roadblocks to reproductive health and abortion care, New Jersey is working to expand access to these vital services, especially for communities facing systemic, economic, and logistical barriers to care,” Murphy said in a statement.

The new rules were unanimously approved by the state Board of Medical Examiners and will take effect in the “coming months,” the Attorney General’s Office said.

The “outdated” restrictions had been under scrutiny after a state panel formed in 2018 examined state regulations concerning abortion.

The Attorney General’s Office said the board considered nationally recognized studies, which showed “certain” early abortions can be safely performed by non-physician clinicians and that over-regulation of abortion creates public health “harms” by disrupting access to care.

Once the rules take effect, nearly 12,000 advanced practice nurses, 4,500 physician assistants and 420 midwives could become authorized to perform abortions. The Reproductive Freedom Act would allow those workers to perform the procedure as well.

Sean P. Neafsey, the acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said the change will “play a role in expanding abortion access and residents will have enhanced choices and more timely access to essential reproductive health care.”

New Jersey does not have any restrictions on when a woman can have an abortion, but the board approved lifting a regulation that barred office-based abortions beyond 14 weeks.

In 2018, the majority of abortions nationally happened in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, while about 7% were done between weeks 14 and 20 and 1% were done after 21 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With a challenge to Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court, abortion rights have increasingly been a focus nationally, but also in New Jersey.

Murphy has said he wants the Legislature to send him the Reproductive Freedom Act to codify Roe v. Wade into state law, but the Republican nominee for governor, Jack Ciattarelli, said he opposes the types of expansion the medical examiners approved Wednesday.

“No one supports an abortion in months seven, eight and nine, let alone it having it performed by somebody other than an M.D.,” or medical doctor, he said at Tuesday night’s debate.

Ciattarelli did, however, say he supports codifying the right to abortion into state law.

Planned Parenthood praised the board’s action and said the “unnecessary barriers” will expand access to abortion at a time it faces legal threats. 

“It is more important now than ever before for New Jersey policymakers to ensure that everyone seeking abortion in our state continue to have access to the highest quality reproductive health care,” Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey spokeswoman Kaitlyn Wojtowicz said in a statement. 

“New Jerseyans deserve and demand access to the care they need so they can plan their families without barriers, fear, or interference from others. Today’s action brings us closer to achieving that goal.”