It took a little over two hours for the Rhode Island Senate to pass the Reproductive Privacy Act, H5125B, a bill to codify the protections of Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law. Outside the chamber, anti-choice protesters were chanting “Pro-Life” over and over again. To pass the bill, the Senate had to stand firm against a series of proposed amendments from Senators Jessica de la Cruz (Republican, District 23, Burrillville, Glocester) and Elaine Morgan (Republican, District 34, Exeter Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich).
In all, five amendments were forwarded and defeated.
- An amendment requiring the anesthetization of the fetus before beginning the abortion procedure from de la Cruz;
- An amendment requiring that late term abortions be done “in cases of emergency” rather than “in the judgement of the physician” from Morgan;
- An amendment requiring abortion clinics to maintain facilities comparable to those in hospital surgical units from de la Cruz. Known as “trap” laws, the amendment seeks to raise the standards at abortion clinics to a level that the clinic can no longer operate. These laws were ruled unconstitutional in a Texas case.
- A state level “Hyde” Amendment, that would prohibit state funding for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or the life of the mother from Morgan. Since this language is already in the bill, the amendment is redundant.
- A “trigger” amendment which would only allow the bill to become law in the event that the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade from Morgan. Morgan introduced her trigger amendment, which was similar to aan amendment promised by Senator Leonidas Raptakis (Democrat, District 33, East Greenwich) earlier in the day. Raptakis did not introduce any amendments.
After everyone in the Senate who wanted to make a statement did so, the Reproductive Privacy Act passed on a 21-17 vote. The Senate Gallery, where supporters had gathered to watch the proceedings, erupted into cheers and applause.
The Senate bill was almost immediately transmitted to the House of Representatives, who had recessed, so that they could reconvene to take up the bill immediately. Senators Morgan and de la Cruz objected to transmitting the bill to the House. The Senate quickly and overwhelmingly voted to overrule the objection.
The House reconvened and took up the Reproductive Privacy Act. Since the Senate had made cosmetic changes to the bill, the House had to vote on the revised language.
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Once again an amendment was introduced requiring the anesthetization of the fetus before beginning the abortion procedure, this time from Representative Sherry Roberts (Republican, District 29, Coventry). The amendment failed.
It took under a half an hour for the House to approve the bill, on a 45-29 vote.
The bill was then transmitted to Governor Gina Raimondo, who immediately held a signing ceremony in her office.
Statements from Lawmakers and Advocates:
Senator Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence) who sponsored the Senate version of the Reproductive Health Care Act:
“My advocacy for reproductive rights is grounded in my own experience as woman, as an adoptive parent and as a religious minority. Judaism recognizes that denying a woman full access to the complete spectrum of reproductive health care, including contraception and abortions, deprives women of their constitutional right to religious freedom. The Reproductive Privacy Act is not only about a constitutional right to privacy, it is also the right to practice my religion without interference from the government.
“This bill also acknowledges that women have the moral agency to make their own decisions, including when and whether to become a parent. While this bill maintains the current status quo on access to abortion, the passage of this legislation is about far more than the law it will create. It is about showing that Rhode Island finally recognizes a pregnant person’s right to make her own health care decisions.
“The Reproductive Privacy Act is 46 years in the making. I’d like to thank the generations who advocated before me, including the women who proceeded me in office that led this fight for decades. I’d like to thank the 16 cosponsors of the Senate bill who spent the past six months talking with doctors, lawyers, religious leaders, their constituents and our colleagues. I’d like to thank Representative Williams for her patience and Representative Ajello for her friendship.
“I am grateful to Senator Erin Lynch Prata for her unwavering commitment to seeing this moment come to fruition and her ongoing partnership. I am thankful for the Senate President whose leadership made today’s vote possible. I’d like to thank the thousands of Rhode Islanders who spoke out in support of this bill – women and men, from young teenagers who fearlessly led protests, to women decades older than me who did not think they’d be fighting this battle once again in 2019. Tonight’s historic vote is a clear message: Your voices have been heard.”
Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence), who sponsored the Reproductive Privacy Act in the House:
“I commend the General Assembly for sending a clear message today that we as a state will not cower in the face of threats at the national level and that Rhode Island will stand strong in protecting women’s access to critical reproductive services. Due to this bill, Rhode Island will remain resolute in ensuring a woman’s privacy in making her own health care decisions and we will not turn back the clock on decades of progress for female reproductive health equality.”
“It has been a long road to seeing this legislation passed and I am proud of the bill that was passed by the General Assembly tonight,” said Senator Erin Lynch Prata (Democrat, District 31, Warwick, Cranston). “I thank Representative Williams, all of the cosponsors, and the advocates and supporters who worked tirelessly to ensure that a woman’s right to privacy and proper reproductive healthcare is safe and accessible in Rhode Island.”
Governor Gina Raimondo:
“Today, I am pleased to sign that act into law. The legislation before me is the product of an important and vigorous debate and a great deal of public scrutiny. It codifies what has been the status quo under Roe v Wade for nearly five decades. It protects a woman’s access to reproductive health care here in Rhode Island at a time when that access is under threat at the federal level and in states across our country. And, it keeps the most personal and difficult decisions of a woman’s life between her and her doctor – where they are today, and where they belong, regardless of continued assaults on the fundamental right to privacy.”
The Womxn Project
“We are still cheering and clapping and flabbergasted with absolute joy.
“We want to be very clear. This absolutely, without a doubt would NOT have happened without the passion and dedication of activists across the state. The Womxn Project has had the incredible honor of partnering and connecting with thousands of volunteers in recent months who have given their time and shared their stories and in so many cases went above and beyond to make sure that this important bill would finally make it through after decades of hard work.
“There were so many points in this campaign that people told us it wasn’t going to happen, but we kept organizing. There were several bumps along the road, but we kept showing up. There were times folks said we should just give up, but we didn’t. We kept on fighting together. This night – this win – this huge step forward is a result of that tenacity and of the fact that we knew this was so much bigger than any one of us.
“This victory is about the health, rights and bodily autonomy of every Rhode Islander. It is about taking a stand. It is about saying we won’t go back to a time when people were denied access to safe, legal abortion and pushed into desperate and dangerous circumstances. It is about saying we will speak out and speak up for what we believe in and we know that when we leverage our collective strength we will make a real and positive difference. That is what we did tonight!
“There is still much work to be done to protect access to make sure that the right to abortion is a reality regardless of age, income, insurance type or immigration status. There are efforts that must be undertaken to help ensure that people can prevent pregnancy when they are not ready to parent or add to their family and to be able to have healthy pregnancies and care for their families with dignity. There is still much to be done, but tonight we celebrate!”
Jordan Hevenor, Co-Director of The Women Project:
“This win makes it clear that should all be able to live, work, and make decisions about our health and our future with dignity – not judgment or barriers. We all deserve the peace of mind that we can obtain the health care we need – and that ABSOLUTELY includes having the right to seek safe, legal abortion care when we need to.”
Jocelyn Foye, Co-Director of The WOmxn Project:
“For us, this is not about politics: it’s about our health and our ability to control our own futures. We believe that people should be able to get an abortion without barriers or judgment. Protecting abortion access means we control our own futures. It’s time to pass a bill that ensures in Rhode Island that we protect the right to abortion and to continue to strive to close gaps in access to affordable care.”
Amanda Skinner, President and CEO, Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island:
“This is a victory for women’s health and reproductive rights. Tonight, Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island (PPV!RI) stands alongside the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom in applauding the Rhode Island General Assembly for passing the Repoductive Privacy Act of 2019 (RPA), a milestone achievement that will enshrine access to safe, legal abortion in Rhode Island state law—46 years after Roe v. Wade guaranteed the fundamental right to abortion in America.
“In a historic evening, the Rhode Island Senate passed the RPA with a vote of 21-17 and the House of Representatives accepted the new version of the bill, which originally passed on March 7th, in a vote of 45-29. Now, this critical legislation will head to the desk of Governor Raimondo to be signed into law.
“We must thank our elected officials, especially Representatives Anastasia P Williams and Edith Ajello, Senator Gayle Goldin, Senate Judiciary Chair Erin Lynch Prata, and Senate Health and Human Services Chair Joshua Miller, who have long championed reproductive freedom and were instrumental in leading this bill through both houses of the General Assembly. Thank you to Senate President Dominick Ruggiero and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello who listened to the will of the people and brought this bill to a vote. And we thank everyone who voted today to safeguard the right to safe, legal abortion in Rhode Island.
“With access to health care and reproductive rights under constant attack, tonight we can celebrate Rhode Island’s commitment to advancing reproductive freedom. As states across the country continue to pass extreme, harmful, and unlawful abortion bans with the intent of challenging the protections of Roe v Wade in front of Trump’s Supreme Court, Rhode Islanders can be assured that the fundamental right to abortion is guaranteed in their state, no matter what happens at the federal level.
“This accomplishment belongs to all of us—our champions in the Senate and the House, our tireless advocates, activists, and coalition partners, and thousands of Rhode Islanders who made phone calls, sent emails, showed up at the State House, voted for candidates who support reproductive rights, and who never gave up. The movement for reproductive freedom is strong and growing.
“While we commend this momentous achievement, our work is not done. We must work to combat racism and systemic inequalities in our health care system and expand access to affordable, accessible health care. We must address the root causes of racial disparities in health outcomes and commit to passing legislation that will help reduce the Black maternal mortality rate. We will work to provide access to doula services and affordable contraception, expand the state’s child care program, and make it easier for families to raise their children in healthy, supportive environments. We will fight to ensure all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, have full equality under the law.
“Today, we celebrate this incredible victory for all Rhode Islanders. This achievement reminds us that we can’t stop speaking out, showing up, and fighting for our rights. On behalf of our 9,000 patients in Rhode Island, our dedicated staff of health care providers, and our thousands of activists, supporters and donors, PPV!RI is proud to fight for every person’s right to access the care they need.”
The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Justice:
“The General Assembly has made history today by passing the Reproductive Privacy Act (H 5125B). With a vote of 21-17 in the Senate and a vote of 45-29 in the House of Representatives, this bill is now on its way to Governor Raimondo to be signed into law.
“This is a truly historical moment in Rhode Island. After decades of advocacy, conversation and compromise from activists, lawmakers and organizations, Rhode Island has proven that it values the reproductive rights of all its residents.
“The Coalition is so thankful for Chairwoman Anastasia Williams, Representative Edith Ajello, Chairwoman Erin Lynch Prata and Senator Gayle Goldin, for their tireless work on this bill this year. And, we thank every legislator that voted in support of this bill today — and every Representative and Senator — past and present who have fought so hard for this bill to get to this point.
“We want to acknowledge the assistance and expertise of Attorney General Peter Neronha and his staff. They were instrumental in helping us craft a bill that truly maintains the status-quo and equips them with the tools they need to defend reproductive freedom here in Rhode Island.
“We would be remiss to not acknowledge the incredible work of all of our Coalition Partners listed below. To move a piece of legislation of this magnitude, in this current political climate, takes a strong coalition.”
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