Advocates emphasize the harms that will come if we do not take steps to protect our rights – impacts on community health AND our state’s economy.

Statement by The Womxn Project urging lawmakers to take action to avoid the significant negative outcomes of neglecting to protect the promise of Roe in Rhode Island:

Numerous states have passed outright bans on abortion while places like Illinois, Washington, Nevada and California are improving access to abortion care and the Republic governor of Vermont just signed a bill to protect the right to abortion. Lawmakers can no longer claim that there is not urgency to this issue. There are close to 20 cases working their way to the United States Supreme Court and attacks on the rights affirmed by Roe v Wade and the ability to obtain services are in the news every day.

As advocates work to defend access to abortion, we are often reminded of what is at stake. We have seen what could happen if access to safe care is taken away. Before Roe, an estimated 1.2 million American women annually turned to unsafe, illegal abortion to terminate a pregnancy. Every large municipal hospital in the United States had a special section of the hospital filled with women suffering from infections from improperly performed abortions and an estimated 5,000 women died every year before 1973.

Women drank household chemicals or tried to throw themselves down stairs or in many cases tried to use a sharp item to end their own pregnancy. This is where the iconic image of a coat hanger comes from. The question is not if people will have abortion or not. It is whether they will be able to do so safely.

Women died. Some lost their ability to have children in the future or faced serious health consequences. As is often the case, women already living on the margins with the least access to care who were already struggling to get by were hit hardest. The mortality rate for black and Hispanic women was twelve times higher than the mortality rate for white women.

Women died alone in hotel and dorm rooms. They suffered in silence with complications that resulted in permanent injuries because they were afraid to ask for help. This is what we could face again and we know who will be hurt most. Women with money have always been able to get an abortion if they need one. They will be able to find a private physician or travel to another state or country where services are available. It is women of color and young women, immigrant women and low-income women who face the greatest risk if we allow the clock to be turned back.

Overturning Roe risks the health and dignity of pregnant people. It would also fuel mass incarceration. If abortion is a crime, then doctors who want to be there for their patients would be punished, but so would women who seek care or who are even suspected of wanting to end a pregnancy. This is not a dramatic threat. President Trump has stated that women who seek abortion should be punished and there are numerous cases in recent years of people being criminalized based on pregnancy outcomes or when they seek means of ending their own pregnancy.

Purvi Patel was jailed after she had a miscarriage. Bei Bei Shuai was charged with murder when she attempted to take her life, which resulted in the loss of her pregnancy. Women have been jailed for refusing a C-section or for using drugs while pregnant. Hundreds of women in the United States have been arrested, forced to undergo unwanted medical procedures, and locked up in jails or psychiatric institutions, because they were pregnant.

As if this was not enough reason to stop the delays and pass the Reproductive Privacy Act, we know there is also an economic impact if we do not take action – not only to the individuals who will not be able to plan their families and become parents when they are ready, but also to our state’s economy.

In recent weeks as states have passed bills banning abortion early in pregnancy, revealing the true agenda to take away all access to abortion throughout pregnancy, there has been a public outcry. In response, businesses have decided to end contracts or cancel events in states pushing these extremist bills. People are cancelling vacation plans or pledging not to travel to states that have taken away people’s rights.

While there is some discord about the idea of boycotts that take resources away from places where people are already struggling with health disparities made worse by the bans, the fact is that people want to make a statement with the dollars they spend and they DO NOT want to move or go to school in a place where they won’t have access to the safe care they may need.

Failing to get a bill to the governor’s desk this year is not just dangerous to our health, but also to our economy. Senate Judiciary Chair Erin Lynch Prata recently stated that a small group has been pulled together to develop a solution. While we are pleased to hear this, time is running out.

We need to make it clear that in Rhode Island we protect our rights. We must pass a bill that will TRULY protect our rights. There is too much at stake to continue the delays. We are proud to join our partners from the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom and activists from across Rhode Island at the State House to make it clear we expect action this year. The time is now. We simply cannot afford to wait any longer.

“Rhode Island lawmakers have a responsibility to protect everyone’s freedom to make decisions about pregnancy and parenting by ensuring access to safe, legal abortion,” said Jordan Hevenor, Co-Director of the Womxn Project. “This is a question of our rights, our health and our safety.”

“All Rhode Islanders deserve the peace of mind that we can obtain the health care we need,” said Jocelyn Foye, Co-Director of The Womxn Project, “and that includes being able to seek an abortion when we need to. It’s time to pass a bill that ensures in Rhode Island that we protect our rights and work to ensure access to the full range of reproductive health care to ensure our health and economic well-being.”