Lawmakers in Rhode Island are seriously considering whether to enshrine abortion protections in state law, joining states around the country that are revisiting their laws in anticipation of renewed federal fights over abortion.
The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Tuesday, 9 to 7, codifying the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing a nationwide right to abortion. It’s backed by many Democrats in the chamber. Many activists were at the State House to voice their support or opposition.
A floor vote is scheduled for Thursday. Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who is anti-abortion, said Tuesday that while he’ll vote no, the House aims to address abortion rights in a collaborative way and the bill represents a consensus about how to proceed.
A Senate bill by Democratic Sen. Gayle Goldin is being modified to match.
Results of the midterm elections buoyed supporters of abortion rights in several states, including Rhode Island. Legislators in some other states are pushing for abortion bans, given the reconfigured U.S. Supreme Court.
Democratic Rep. Robert Craven, the judiciary committee chairman, said the bill is a strict codification of Roe v. Wade, which is needed because the General Assembly’s previous attempts to deal with abortion in statute have been “unsuccessful, unenforceable and unconstitutional.” The bill would repeal all statutes previously passed by the General Assembly that relate to abortion as being unconstitutional, he added.
The proposed bill has been revised to affirm that partial-birth abortions will remain banned in the state. The bill also includes language to prohibit late-term abortions, except when necessary for the life or health of the mother, as is currently done in Rhode Island.
Democratic Rep. Arthur Corvese, Republican Rep. Blake Filippi, who is the House minority leader, and Democratic Rep. Christopher Millea were among those who voted against the bill in committee because they feared it expands the definition of abortion.
Democratic Rep. James McLaughlin attended the hearing holding a sketch of Jesus Christ with a child. He said he hopes to defeat the bill on the floor.
The Rhode Island Republican Party, Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin and Rhode Island Right to Life also oppose the bill. The Rhode Island Republican Party said “Rhode Island is no place for children.” Tobin warned about the “unborn children who will never see the light of day,” ”women whose lives will be forever scarred by abortion,” and a society that “will perish if we insist on killing our offspring.” Rhode Island Right to Life called it an extreme abortion bill that would lead to “a sweeping expansion of the abortion license in Rhode Island.”
Groups that support the bill include Planned Parenthood, the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island chapters of the National Organization for Women and American Civil Liberties Union.
“Currently in this state, if Roe v. Wade was to be overturned at the federal level, we don’t have protections on our books for the right of a woman to have a safe and legal abortion,” Hilary Levey Friedman, president of RI NOW, said. “We believe it’s important to codify those protections.”
Democratic Rep. Edith Ajello, a longtime abortion rights advocate, said she was delighted the bill passed because it does everything she wanted to do.
Two supporters of abortion rights roamed through the State House Tuesday dressed as women from “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Goldin, a Providence Democrat, said Rhode Island needs to act because President Donald Trump seems focused on ensuring that reproductive rights are eroded and the Supreme Court, which includes Trump’s appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, could narrow or overturn Roe v. Wade. She said the bill would ensure that “reproductive rights stay legal and stay safe right here in Rhode Island.”