In the wake of Justice Anthony Kennedy resigning from the United States Supreme Court on July 31st, The Woman Project organized a rally at the Rhode Island State House to call upon the leadership of the General Assembly to begin an emergency session and pass the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA) (S2163/H7340), a bill that would codify the protections of Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law.
Images containing messages such as “Abortion: Safe Legal and Here to Stay” and “Bishop Tobin Does Not Speak for RI” were projected onto the State House by The Woman Project co-founder Jocelyn Foye.
In their press release The Woman Project wrote:
The Woman Project has been organizing across Rhode Island for the past 18 months to protect Roe v. Wade on behalf of the 63 percent of Rhode Islanders who support safe and legal abortion access. However, the last session ended with Speaker Nicholas Mattiello yet again refusing to bring the RHCA to a vote. As a state, Rhode Island receives an “F rating” from NARAL because, among other shameful facts, there is currently no legal protection at the state level that reinforces abortion access. Rhode Islanders access to abortion rights is the based on the national Roe v. Wade ruling. With this looming power shift in the Supreme Court, our access to abortion rights could very well be abolished. The RHCA would secure access to abortion in RI regardless of what happens nationally.
“Speaker Mattiello has refused to allow the RHCA to come to a vote said Emily Boucher of The Woman Project. “He was quoted recently saying a vote concerning reproductive rights would ‘utilize all the oxygen in the room.’ Does the Speaker suggest that all Rhode Island women just hold their breath while our bodily rights are in such palpable jeopardy? Rhode Islanders must work individually and collectively to demand health care be protected. If a lapse in our reproductive healthcare were to occur, the time waiting for government action would be measured in trimesters. For the safety of Rhode Islanders, this cannot be our reality; we must act now to pass the RHCA.”
Speakers at the event featured women running for public office in Rhode Island. Reverend David Helfer acted as emcee.
“To Speaker Mattiello and the entire old boys club up at the State House,” said Nika Lomazzo. “Get ready for the primaries. We’re coming for you.” Lomazzo wanted to make sure that the language around reproductive health care was inclusive of trans people.
“Our elected Democrats must address reproductive rights head on and without hesitation. The health and safety of Rhode Islanders is at stake,” said Melanie DuPont, who is running as a Democrat for State Senate, District 22. “We cannot ignore the people’s need for reproductive justice. When we treat their lives so lightly, we should be ashamed.”
“I’m proud to be from the only community in Rhode Island to pass a resolution in support of the Reproductive Health Care Act,” said South Kingstown Town Councilmember Liz Gledhill. “I entered the political scene and thought Democrats were going to be my allies. But the Democrats in Rhode Island leadership have failed us…”
“My Senator… wouldn’t give me an answer on how he would vote on the Reproductive Health Care Act,” said Bridget Valverde, who is running for State Senate in District 35. “Because he felt like he didn’t have to. Because he was never going to have to take that vote as long as the leaders that were in power stayed in power.”
“It is long past time to pass the Reproductive Health Care Act,” said Rebecca Kislak, who is running for Rhode Island State Representative in District 4. “One of the things that I am learning as I am knocking on doors in my neighborhood is that not everybody knows that if Roe v Wade is overturned or when Roe v Wade is overturned – If we don’t act in this building, abortion will be illegal here in Rhode island.”
“While I know it’s frustrating, I know it’s really hard to keep coming back for the smae reason, for the same things year after year,” said Shannon Donohue, who is running for Rhode Island State Senate in District 7 and has been fighting for reproductive health care since Roe v Wade became law in 1973. “It is worth it. Your voice needs to be heard and we all need to work together to ensure the right to safe and legal abortions in the State of Rhode Island.”
“I was here a few weeks ago to testify and nothing has happened and everyone is on vacation now and it is ridiculous” said Jennifer Rourke, who is running for State Senate, District 29 in Warwick. “The fact that it’s 2018, and we as women re still fighting for protection is absolutely appalling.”
“Do not forget to vote… for these women who I am so inspired by,” said Karen Alzate, who is running for State Representative in District 60. “My parents came here from Columbia and they wanted more freedom for my sister and I…”
“So I wanted to start off by dedicating these words to a few men out there,” said Kat Kerwin. “House Speaker Mattiello. Majority Leader Shekarchi. Senate President Ruggerio and Michael McCaffry, all men whose privilege has blinded them to the truth that this is women’s health care and women’s rights on the line.”
The idea of an emergency session was suggested on Wednesday by Rhode Island Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence).
“Our session adjourned for 2018,” said Larry Berman, spokesman for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) as quoted in the Providence Journal. Berman was not entirely correct. As John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island pointed out:
FYI, RI friends, the General Assembly stopped passing resolutions of adjournment in ‘95. Now they just recess. Therefore Article IX, Section 7 allowing for the governor to call special sessions doesn’t matter. The Speaker and the President can call their chambers back at any time
— John Marion (@JohnMarionjr) June 27, 2018
Surprisingly, it was a member of the Speaker’s own leadership team that first suggested holding a special session in the event that Roe v Wade came under threat from the Trump Administration. In a constituent hearing last July, Representative Kenneth Marshall (Democrat, District 68, Bristol Warren) Marshall had the following exchange:
“Suppose you’re on recess?” asked Sharon Wollschlager, attending the constituent meeting with her husband, “Suppose you’re on recess and something like that happens?”
“Good question,” said Marshall.
“Where’s our safe guard?” asked Sharon Wollschlager.
“Good question,” repeated Marshall, “Yeah, you’re right. I think that’s a situation where you may see an emergency session being put forth. We have the opportunity to call a session at any time…”
Marshall made the surprise decision on Wednesday to not stand for re-election.
The idea of passing the RHCA in a special session was embraced by Governor Gina Raimondo:
It’s now more urgent than ever that the legislature pass the Reproductive Health Care Act so that we can protect a woman’s right to choose in RI against any decision a Trump Court might make. Read my full statement: pic.twitter.com/W3IHxun60Q
— Gina Raimondo (@GovRaimondo) June 27, 2018
Here are photos from the event:
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