Senate Judiciary Committee killed the Reproductive Health Care Act, but all hope is not lost…

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Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected Senate Bill 152A Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA) on a 5-4 vote. The RHCA is a compromise bill that takes its language from the House’s recently passed Reproductive Privacy Act. The bills seek to codify the human rights protections of Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law. As abortion foes celebrated, supporters of the legislation began chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

The swing vote on the committee has long been Senator Stephen Archambault (Democrat, District 22, Smithfield, Johnston, North Providence) who claims to believe “in a woman’s right to choose” and says that he, “thinks it is important to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade into state law given the current composition of the US Supreme Court.”

Instead of supporting a woman’s right to choose, Archambault announced his intention to scuttle the bill with an 11th hour compromise introduced the night before.

Stephen Archambault

Speaking from his seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Archambault delivered a 13 minute long lecture about how an alternate bill of his own writing would be an improvement. He also spent quite a bit of time going after the “sponsor of the bill” for introducing a bill that he thinks goes beyond the mere codification of Roe v Wade when it comes to what he termed “post-viability” abortions. “It troubles me greatly,” said Archambault.

Archambault, in his lecture, never mentioned the name of the bills sponsor, Senator Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence). Instead, he attempted to twist the blame for the failure of the bill of the Senate Committee onto her, presenting himself as a reasonable man.

“The Sponsor’s had a look at [my] bill for some time. The Sponsor, and some of the other folks that are proponents of this legislation, outright rejected my bill,” said Archambault petulantly.” [See: Video below, at the 10 minute, 30 second mark] “She didn’t come back with any offer, any compromise. The Sponsor is actually in the paper saying, ‘I don’t support any amendments intended to water down the bill.’

“In my seven years in the Senate,” continued Archambault, “I’ve found that some of the best legislation that comes about comes about through compromise, through keeping an open mind, and through working on principles. To have a mindset that is predisposed to, ‘I’m not going to accept anything’ doesn’t lend itself to anything other than the chaos you see up here today.

“Step back for an instant. It’s a polarizing issue. You think some of this chaos could have been avoided if we sat down and talked about some of the aspects of this bill?

“When i was coming into the Senate tonight,” complained Archambault, “I was coming from court… I saw a Rep in the parking lot and the Rep said, ‘I hope you’re going to support the bill’ and I said, ‘Rep, have you read my bill?’ ‘No.’ The Rep came at me pretty hard about all the reasons I should support this bill, and hadn’t even read my bill.

“I don’t act rashly. I don’t act on impetuous thoughts,” said Archambault, differentiating himself from Senator Goldin. ” I don’t do things in a way that doesn’t take into consideration all the information I can before I make my decisions. I listen very carefully and I’ve thought about this issue in great detail. And I’ve looked very deeply at the contrast between my bill and the Sponsor’s bill…

“Boy, I really wish that we’d sat down and been able to talk about compromises to the bill. But I’m not the Sponsor. I’m just a Senator.” [Note: The Sponsor of the bill is also just a Senator.]

After the vote Senator Goldin issued a statement:

“Tonight’s vote is obviously not the outcome that we wanted on reproductive rights in Rhode Island. I want to assure all of the incredible people who have worked to get bill S-152A heard that we will continue to entertain any avenue to pursue protection for the women of our state. We have worked collaboratively to get to this point, and our work is not done.

“I would like to thank all of the people who have volunteered their time and talent to this movement for women’s rights. I would also like to thank the women who came before me, elected to the Senate and the House, who fought for decades to pass reproductive protections. I have been the lead sponsor of this bill for the last 3 years, but this fight has a long history. I feel privileged to have 16 other Senate co-sponsors who have been tireless advocates, especially Chair Lynch-Prata, to whom I owe a great deal of gratitude.

“Make no mistake, this is a movement, and it is a growing one.

“I feel the anger and fear of thousands of women because of tonight’s vote. Right now in this country, we are in a landmark fight over who controls women’s lives – our health, our bodies, and our voices. In the last few weeks alone, we have seen legislatures and governors strip away reproductive rights. Rights that mothers and grandmothers fought for and hoped were secure for future generations. In Rhode Island, we had the opportunity to stand with women and for women. Instead, tonight we turned our backs.

“We may have lost the vote on this Senate bill, but this will not end here. I want all of the young women in our state to know that we will continue to fight for their futures in this session and beyond. We will continue to speak out. We will continue to demand rights for women here and throughout our country. Over 70 percent of Rhode Island stands with us, and I will continue to fight until we have secured into law the reproductive rights that women deserve.”

Those watching at home or ho were unable to get into the hearing room would not have heard the loud chanting, from both sides of the issue, in the hallways outside the room 313. When the Senators entered the room, they were escorted by Capitol Police and Rhode Island State Police.

Here is the rest of the hearing. Each of the nine Senators on the committee issued statements. First, here is Committee Chair Erin Lynch Prata (Democrat, District 31, Warwick, Cranston) opening the hearing.

Senator Cynthia Armour Coyne (Democrat, District 32, Barrington) voted in favor of the bill.

Senator Harold Metts (Democrat, District 6, Providence) voted against the bill. In his statement Metts simultaneously spent much of his time quoting from the Bible while claiming that the issue is not one of biblical morality.

Senator Dawn Euer (Democrat, District 13, Newport, Jamestown) voted in favor of the bill.

“This bill protects the status quo in Rhode Island. Nothing more.

“The national trend, since the passage of Roe in 1973, has been to place additional restrictions on abortion access, and even to pass blatantly unconstitutional restrictions in an effort to test the bounds of the Roe v. Wade decision. After decades of attacks, the anti-choice forces finally have what they want by holding a majority of seats on the US Supreme Court.

“Just yesterday, in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt, the US Supreme Court overturned a 40-year-old precedent – indicating the pathway to overturning Roe. In his dissent, Justice Breyer said: “To overrule a sound decision like Hall is to encourage litigants to seek to overrule other cases; it is to make it more difficult for lawyers to refrain from challenging settled law; and it is to cause the public to become increasingly uncertain about which cases the Court will overrule and which cases are here to stay.”

“The time to act is now.

“Not only are the arguments in opposition to this piece of legislation factually inaccurate and misleading, they are insulting.

“Contrary to the rhetoric, women are not deranged murderers who would carry a fetus for 8 or 9 months before deciding to kill it.

“Contrary to the rhetoric, women are not flippantly deciding to use abortion as birth control.

“The reality is that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to implement a smart public health care policy, in part by increasing access to and coverage for contraception.

“During the hearing on this legislation, we heard many personal stories of women sharing why they chose to proceed with an abortion. Tragic medical complications for the pregnant individual and tragic endings to a very much wanted pregnancy.

“Prior to Roe v. Wade, the reality is that women died. We don’t hear stories from these women because they are not here to share them. What we do hear are the stories of the women who survived. The women who were desperate enough to perform their own abortion. The women who traveled to a different country, where it was also illegal, to get an abortion. Women and their friends, partners, spouses, who were so scared for their future. Women who had medical complications with their pregnancy who couldn’t get the medical care they needed because their doctors’ feared prosecution.

“The women who died are not here to share their story, but we must remember them. We must remember them and we must pass this bill. Because we can’t go back.”

Senator Frank Lombardi (Democrat, District 26, Cranston) voted against the bill.

Senator Jessica de la Cruz (Republican, District 23, Burrillville, Glocester) voted against the bill.

Senator Mark McKenney (Democrat, District 30, Warwick) voted for the bill.

Senator Leonidas Raptakis (Democrat, District 33, East Greenwich) not only voted against the bill, he partied with anti-abortion activists such as Chris Young, Kara Russo, Tyler Rawley, Larry Gillheeney and Nicholas Denise afterwards.

Committee Chair Lynch Prada voted in favor of the bill, but she also expressed frustration with the very issue of reproductive rights, saying that “the great majority of those with a strong opinion on this bill have opinions that are rooted in emotion.”

After the hearing, unseen by the audience watching from home, the Senators left the room escorted by police officers. Senator lombardi paused to receive a grateful hug from a woman wearing a blue “Choose Life” tee shirt.

Leaving the hearing room, dozens of supporters of reproductive rights were chanting and expressing their outrage over Archambault’s betrayal.

The action moved to the Senate Floor, where hundreds of supporter of the legislation gathered and expressed their outraged for nearly half an hour. When I entered, about a dozen Capitol and State Police were attempting to clear the room. I asked the officer who seemed to be in charge why he was clearing the room, a public space where people have every right to protest.

The officer in charge said that things seemed to be getting out of hand, but the room was not cleared until the protesters were done. Below are two short videos and one much longer that capture the atmosphere of this event.

After vacating the Senate Chamber, supporters of the bill began circling the rotunda. Abortion foes stood on the sideline, hurling insults and calling the the bill’s supporters “losers.”

I found Senator Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) in the hallway, and asked him about the vote in Senate Judiciary. It was very hard to hear him, but this is what he said:

“This was an insult to every pro-choice person. An insult to everyone who believes that we should have the right to choose. We cannot allow the Trump Administration to take away these fundamental rights, and the fact that it was so-called Democrats that empowered this is despicable and it’s wrong.

“It’s also very important that we know that it was ordered from the top by the Senate President and the Senate Majority Leader, Dominick Ruggerio and Michael McCaffrey. This is exactly why I and Donna Nesselbush voted against them.

“We need a Senate President who will get this bill passed. I hope every State Senator who supported Dominick Ruggerio for Senate President and believes in this bill, will reconsider their vote, and remove their support from Dominick Ruggerio. Because supporting this leadership team, as we have seen, means opposing the fundamental values of the Democratic Party on core issues, like a woman’s right to choose.”

I also found Melanie DuPont, dressed in Handmaid garb. DuPont ran against Senator Archambault in the last election, and in response to his actions, has announced her intent to run against him in 2020.

“I running against Archambault, just like he’s against us,” said DuPont. “I feel that Archambault’s speech [in the Senate Committee room] is a smokescreen for his true feelings. Archambault came here today to represent himself, not the 500,000 women throughout Rhode Island…

“Archambault represents exactly two people: Himself and Ruggerio.

“I’m taking on Archambault. Help me out.”

As Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence) left his office, he was pursued by a crowd of people eager to let them know what they thought about the vote in Senate Judiciary. It started with people entering the Senate President’s office. Archambault took the stairs from his third floor office to the second floor, where he took an elevator to the basement and left through the side door to the parking lot. He was pursued all the way to his car. Ruggerio was accompanied by his close ally Senator Maryellen Goodwin (Democrat, District 1, Providence).

I was only able to follow as far of the elevator.

Senators Archambault and Lombardi walked past supporters of the bill who were chanting, “Shame!” as they made their way to their cars. Senators Coyne and Frank Lombardo (Democrat, District 25, Johnston) were also leaving, but not the targets of the protesters.

As the night ended, protesters began chanting, “Not the church, not the state, Women will decide their fate!” near the main entrance of the State House.

“In case you haven’t heard, one of the bills is still alive,” said Craig O’Connor from Planned Parenthood. “This is not over. We will be back tomorrow, we’re going to be back Thursday, we’re going to be back every day this session. We’re going to be back every day next session, we’re going to be damned sure to remember in the elections in 2020…”

Senate President Ruggerio issued the following statement:

“I have been consistent in my position that, while I am pro-life, I would not impose my personal views on the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee or in any way seek to prevent the legislation from passing. I did not interfere with the committee review process or attempt to change anyone’s vote on the issue.

“Mindful of the concerns of the proponents of the legislation, I ensured that my legal staff was available to work with committee members in a good faith effort to arrive at language that might win the support of the committee. The legal staff worked throughout the session, and throughout this past weekend, but ultimately a consensus could not be reached before the committee vote.

“It is clear that there is not sufficient support to pass the bill as it stands out of committee. By holding the House version of the bill for further study today, there is opportunity for further action. I ask all parties to continue working together to see if amended language can be developed that will pass committee and be brought to the floor.”

The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom issued the following statement:

“The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom is deeply disappointed in the outcome of the vote on the Reproductive Health Care Act (S152A) in committee this evening. With states around the country passing abortion bans intended to go to the Supreme Court, the urgency is real, and women’s health care is in danger. We are equally disappointed to hear people that claim to be pro-choice parrot the language and buy into the false rhetoric that is being spread by opponents of reproductive health care.

“The Judiciary Committee did hold the House companion bill, The Reproductive Privacy Act (H5125A), for further study, so we do still have a chance of passing a bill this year. The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom and our partner organizations will continue to show up at the State House every single legislative day. We will continue to be present at the State House and advocate for a full debate, vote and passage of the Reproductive Privacy Act (H5125A) and will not stop showing up until women’s reproductive rights are fully protected in Rhode Island. Period.

Amanda Skinner, President and CEO, Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island wrote:

“Today, the Democratic leadership of the Rhode Island Senate failed women and failed their constituents. They sided with the blatant lies of President Trump and allowed the Reproductive Health Care Act (S 152A) to be defeated in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Four Democrats on the committee stood against women’s equality and reproductive freedom by voting to defeat legislation that would preserve the right to safe, legal abortion in Rhode Island no matter what happens at the federal level. The Democratic leadership in the Senate refused to use their considerable power to ensure the Reproductive Health Care Act was brought to the floor for a vote by the full Senate. The leadership shown by Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and his team represents a true commitment to respecting the people of Rhode Island by ensuring a floor vote on the House companion bill (H 5125A). We hope the Senate leadership similarly acts in the interest of those they serve by moving the RHCA to the floor. We will be back every day this session and every day next session to fight for the basic right to control one’s own future and decisions when to grow or start a family. The voters of Rhode Island will remember today when they vote in 2020 elections.

“Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, President Dominick Ruggerio and Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin could have ensured the RHCA makes it to the Senate floor. Today, they could have joined the Committee and voted passage, allowing the Rhode Island public the chance to know where every member of the Senate stands on this fundamental civil right. They did not. Instead, they stood aside and let the forces of manipulation and deceit derail the forward progress of our state. These three Democrats lead a Senate in which 33 of 38 members (87%) are Democrats, in a state where every statewide officer is a Democrat who openly supports the RHCA, and our US Senators have been repeatedly re-elected while standing up for reproductive freedom. Mr. McCaffrey, Mr. Ruggerio and Ms. Goodwin have abdicated their responsibilities as leaders of a party whose state platform reads, ‘We view a woman’s right to choose as a private matter, which is a fundamental liberty protected by the United States Constitution. Therefore, we will fight to protect a woman’s right and a family’s right to seek medical care wherever they wish, regardless of ability to pay, and we support laws designed to protect that right.’

“Thank you to Chairwoman Lynch Prata and Senators Coyne, Euer, and McKenney for voting to protect the right to safe, legal abortion in Rhode Island. And thank you to the sponsors of the Reproductive Health Care Act for continuing to lead the fight for reproductive freedom.

“Elections matter – we are closer than ever before to protecting safe, legal abortion in Rhode Island. There is a clear mandate to pass the Reproductive Health Care Act. On October 14, polling showed 71% of Rhode Islanders support a law to protect safe, legal abortion. In the 2018 elections, Rhode Island elected the most Planned Parenthood-endorsed candidates in history, including 12 new voices for reproductive freedom.

“Since 2016, 75% of newly elected members of the Rhode Island General Assembly are open supporters of reproductive freedom, including the right to safe, legal abortion. All five statewide General Officers support passing a law to put the protection of Roe v. Wade into Rhode Island statute, and we thank Gov. Raimondo for calling on the Assembly to act this year in her 2019 State of the State address. There are now more than enough votes in the General Assembly to pass the Reproductive Health Care Act. The only thing holding it up is a Senate leadership unwilling to stand up for the ideals of their own party—this is not acceptable.

“President Trump has doubled-down on his attacks on women’s health care, using blatant lies to manipulate emotions. Many states have passed laws aimed at eliminating access to abortion. Just last week, the Republican Governor of Georgia signed a bill banning abortion as early as six weeks. There is a cruel, coordinated effort for states to pass laws that will go to Trump’s Supreme Court and provide the opportunity to reverse four decades of precedent protecting the fundamental right to abortion. Rhode Island had the chance to stand up and to set an example by protecting a person’s right to control their own body and their own future and instead the Senate leadership cowed to anti-abortion extremists and their vile rhetoric.

“Planned Parenthood has been here for over 100 years, fighting to protect access to reproductive health care and providing health care. Let’s be clear: abortion is health care, reproductive care is health care, and health care is a human right.

“On behalf of our 9,000 Rhode Island patients, our dedicated staff of care givers, and our thousands of activists, supporters and donors, we call on the leadership to find a way to bring the RHCA before the full Senate without amendments and without delay.”


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About Steve Ahlquist 959 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade.Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.atomicsteve@gmail.com

1 Comment

  1. Very disappointed in Senator Archambault, who I have generally liked. He must have known his amendment had no chance and it seems to me he offered it just to try to have it both ways. I doubt the anti-choice folks will be that thrilled with him since they can’t rely on him either. Though, as of now, he voted in effect to criminalize abortion in Rhode Island when Roe is overturned.

    I listened to all of Metts’ rant, It was 100 percent religious. For example, our bodies are not ours, they are God’s. Just because he is black he should not get a pass. I think he is a cruel man to want to force women to bear children against their will. And though other opponents didn’t emphasize their religion (Metts was more honest on this) it reinforces my belief that religion is so often the root of oppression, especially against women.

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