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Speaker Mattiello shares his current thinking on reproductive rights and codifying Roe v Wade



Rhode Island Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello has used his position to prevent the codification of Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law for years, even though, by his own admission, the majority of Rhode Islanders support the the idea.

Mattiello narrowly won re-election in Cranston District 15 and then immediately moved to consolidate his Speakership at a caucus meeting where nearly one-third of his fellow Democrats refused to support him.

At his election night celebration party, Mattiello recently told WPRI/Channel 12 reporter Kim Kalunian, “I’m going to have a new policy going forward: news media outlets that treat me fairly and are objective, I’m going to converse more with.” The subject of the coverage is probably not in the best position to judge what “fair” and “objective” means.

The Speaker made good on his promise, granting a half hour interview to Ed Achorn, the Providence Journal editorial pages editor, on Achorn’s podcast, appropriately called The Insiders. The Providence Journal gave Mattiello a glowing pre-election endorsement, and was granted an interview, as a good media deserves under Mattiello’s definition of “objective.”

Circling back to the topic of codifying Roe v Wade and the future of the Reproductive Health Care Act, here’s the conversation between Mattiello and his media accomplice, Ed Achorn, on that issue:

Achorn: No less a left leaning Democrat than Sheldon Whitehouse told our editorial board that it’s unlikely that any court headed by John Roberts will overturn Roe v Wade. But nonetheless there’s a strong push by abortion rights activists to codify the Supreme Court ruling in Rhode Island law just in case. Are you in favor of doing that in the next term?

Mattiello: Well, we’ll see. That’s, as I’ve said before, a very divisive issue. I do believe a majority are in favor of codifying Roe v Wade. I’ve come to that conclusion. But there’s a strong, large segment of society on the other side that’s opposed to doing so. So I’m not going to make that decision. I will converse with my colleagues and I’ve said I’m very sensitive to all the folks on both sides of this issue. But I do recognize that there’s a lot of people that do want to codify Roe v Wade. We have a committee process. We’ll go through that. As we’re going through that we’ll all be mindful of what the wishes of society are and we’ll see where that takes us.

Achorn: So you’re very non-committal at this point.

Mattiello: Despite what people think or believe sometimes, I am very collaborative and on an issue this big and this sensitive I want to get a lot of feedback from House leaders, all of my colleagues in the House, the chairman in the House, just to get- I want us to be on the same page and I want to have a lot of input before we decide what we’re going to do about that.

Achorn: Do you have a sense, one way or another, if you think the court will overturn Roe v Wade?

Mattiello: Yes. I have a sense. I’m an attorney by trade. Admittedly I don’t do constitutional law, but, I don’t think they will. You have more than five decades of precedent. It’s a court that operates on precedent. I think they would lose a lot of stature by overturning something that’s been foundational and the law of the land for the last 50 years. So I don’t personally think so and I’ve always said that even though there’s a lot of interest in this issue it’s just one that’s not ripe. I’ve always said that if it was overturned that it would be something that we’d have to look at.

I certainly am sensitive to a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, personally. I’m pro-life but I’m not going to tell someone else what to believe or what to do. I’m very sensitive to that. We’ll see what happens but I do not believe – and I want to be clear – I’m sensitive to the folks that believe that the Court may in fact do something – but I personally do not believe that the Court is going to overturn Roe v Wade. It would be a disaster.

Achorn: How do your personal beliefs factor into how you approach and issue like this?

Mattiello: Well, we all start off from our personal point of view but I represent a community and I represent a lot of people, both in Cranston and state wide. The first thing I do is I ask my committee chair what the testimony was, for and against. What are people thinking about? Then I talk to neighbors and I talk to friends. I talk to colleagues in the House, as all my colleagues do. Then we come together and we try to do something.

I may disagree with the majority of my community, but if the majority in my community feel a certain way, it’s a representative government, and I’m supposed to represent their interests, unless it’s immoral or harmful or detrimental to somebody else for some reason. I think you have to respect the will of the majority. I spend a lot of time trying to listen to people and trying to understand so I can make good decisions and judgements on their behalf.

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