The Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on five bills concerning reproductive rights and abortion on Tuesday in a hearing that lasted well into Wednesday morning, ending after 2:45am.
The biggest and most important bill under consideration was H5127, the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA). This bill would codify the federal protections of Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law, something proponents say is desperately needed given the current make up of the United States Supreme Court and President Donald Trump‘s vow to undo the decision. Opponents of abortion and reproductive rights want to keep the status quo in Rhode Island, so we might return the days before Roe, when women often lost their lives seeking unsafe, illegal abortions.
Another bill that purports to protect a woman’s right to choose is H5125, the Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA). This bill is being pushed forward by the conservative, anti-choice House leadership team as an attempt to muddy the waters. The RPA pretends to safeguard a woman’s right to seek safe and legal abortions, but fails. While the RHCA would remove from state law previous laws that are unconstitutional under Roe, the RCA would preserve two measures previously deemed unconstitutional by explicitly preserving a revised version of the state’s antiquated ‘quick child’ law that conflicts with Roe v Wade’s definition of fetal viability, and implicitly preserving the state’s ‘Partial Birth Abortion Act’ which is unconstitutional and far exceeds the federal law.” The bill is also poorly written.
People might remember last year, near the end of the House session, when Representative Susan Donovan (Democrat, District 69, Bristol)’s Fair Pay Act was amended and replaced with new language by House leadership that not only didn’t advance pay equity but in many ways would have made the situation for women and minorities worse. What House leadership is attempting to do with the RPA seems similar.
The last three bills under consideration are the usual unconstitutional anti-choice bills that, if passed, would make it illegal to seek an abortion in Rhode Island if and when Roe is overturned.
People on both sides of the debate crowded the State House and 142 people presented testimony to the committee.
There are differences under the leadership of new Judiciary Chair Robert Craven (Democrat, District 32, North Kingstown) in the way in which the hearing was conducted. For one things, signs were allowed in the room. Chair Cale Keable (Democrat, District 47, Burrillville, Glocester), who chaired this committee for the last few years, did not allow signs.
Craven was also pretty fast and loose with the amount time he allowed those presenting testimony. During the course of the hearing Craven at least twice imposed a two-minute time limit on speakers, a limit that was not strictly enforced until the last hours of the hearing, where people were frog-marched through their testimony, one after another, in a flurry of 60-90 second testimonies.
The hearing started with the committee passing Representative Kenneth Marshall (Democrat, District 68, Bristol)’s bill H5015 onto the floor for a full vote. The legislation “would allow the board of canvassers of the town of Bristol to combine two or more voting districts for the representative District 68 special election in March, 2019.” Marshall is a candidate in the race. The Committee also passed the Senate version of the same bill.
Representative Edith Ajello (Democrat, District 1, Providence) introduced the RHCA:
Chair Craven introduced the RPA, which Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence) explains further in video 27 below.
Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence) introduced H5114.
After the introductions, public testimony began:
Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea:
Attorney Lynette Labinger:
Former State Representative Linda Kushner spoke about her experience with an illegal, life threatening abortion in the days before Roe v Wade.
Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner:
Ryan Holt speaking on behalf of Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha:
Providence City Councilor Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3) spoke about the Providence City Council unanimously passing a resolution in support of the RHCA. She was told that one can’t be a Christian and support the right to an abortion by Representative Sherry Roberts (Republican, District 29, Coventry).
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza:
Rabbi Barry Dolinger:
Representative Liana Cassar (Democrat, District 66, Barrington, East Providence):
Democratic andidate for Governor and former Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown:
Tracy Ramos, president of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus:
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