“The ban on Medicaid programs and state employees’ insurance policies covering abortion is just one more vestige of the time when legislatures used every tool they had to deny people their right to choose,” said Representative Liana Cassar (Democrat, District 66, Barrington, East Providence). “All Rhode Islanders deserve bodily autonomy, including the poor and those who are employed by the state. This ban is a backdoor means of denying reproductive rights, and it should be eliminated.”
On the 47th anniversary of the landmark Roe v Wade decision protecting the right to choose an abortion, Senator Bridget Valverde (District 35, North Kingstown, Narragansett) and Representative Liana Cassar (Democrat, District 66, Barrington, East Providence) on Wednesday announced the “Equity in Abortion Coverage Act,” legislation that will lift the ban on abortion coverage for state employee health plans and ensure that abortion care is covered by state Medicaid.
The law was passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1981, along with other bills limiting access to abortion. The laws, said the ACLU of Rhode Island at the time, reflected “a callousness by most members of the General Assembly toward their oath of office to uphold the Constitution, and a blatant disregard of the health and safety of women in Rhode Island who have become the pawns in a shameless political game.”
“Abortion is basic health care and should be covered by your health insurance no matter how much money you make or where you work,” said Senator Valverde. “Right now, we have an unfair, discriminatory system in place here in Rhode Island. State employees and Medicaid patients deserve the same coverage as everyone else, but the law prohibits their insurance from providing it. These policies result in people and their families being denied access to health care, and in this case, those impacted are disproportionately poorer Rhode Islanders. We believe that every person has the right to make their own reproductive health decisions, but these Rhode Islanders cannot do that when their insurance is expressly prohibited from covering their choice.”
The bill would add Rhode Island to the ranks of 16 states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, whose Medicaid programs cover abortion.
“The General Assembly passed the Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA) last year, which was a great success,” said Representative Cassar. “The RPA eliminated many of the unconstitutional laws enacted in Rhode Island after Roe v Wade to restrict reproductive rights. The ban on Medicaid programs and state employees’ insurance policies covering abortion is just one more vestige of the time when legislatures used every tool they had to deny people their right to choose. All Rhode Islanders deserve bodily autonomy, including the poor and those who are employed by the state. This ban is a backdoor means of denying reproductive rights, and it should be eliminated.”
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The legislation is aimed at eliminating sections of law that expressly prohibit state employees’ and Medicaid recipients’ insurance from covering for abortion, except in cases of rape or incest or where the life of the mother would be endangered, as required by federal law. In compliance with the federal Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion services, it adds language that specifies that no federal funds shall be used to pay for them, except as authorized under federal law. The law would take effect upon passage.
The legislation is part of a campaign coordinated by The Womxn Project, and is supported by the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island, the ACLU of Rhode Island, the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus, COYOTE RI, the National Council for Jewish Women, the National Association of Social Workers RI Chapter, the United State of Women (Rhode Island), CaneIwalk, Rhode Island National Organization of Women (NOW), the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, The Collective and Swing Left Rhode Island.
“We worked so hard as a movement and in coalition to make sure that in Rhode Island our right to abortion is protected, no matter what happens at the federal level. As we commemorate Roe and see the endless attacks on this right, we believe we have to draw the line and fight back. It is time to get rid of harmful policies that take away coverage for abortion. When people can’t afford care because they are denied benefits, that takes away their right to make their own decision. We won’t stand by and let this happen. We will continue to organize and make change together,” said Jordan Hevenor, co-director of the Womxn Project.
Yojaida Heredia, policy fellow for The Womxn Project, introduced the program:
Stephanie Moniz, media fellow for The Womxn Project, wrapped up the program:
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