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General Assembly urged to pass Equality in Abortion Coverage Act of 2020



We recognize real inequalities in our state, and we envision a Rhode Island where everyone has access to affordable and comprehensive reproductive health care,” said Nicole Jellinek, Chair, Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom.

Nicole Jellinek

The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom (RICRF) joined Senator Bridget Valverde and Representative Liana Cassar to urge Rhode Island lawmakers to pass the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act of 2020. The bill will eliminate unfair, discriminatory Rhode Island laws that prevent state employees and people enrolled in Medicaid from using their health insurance to cover abortion.

Despite passing the Reproductive Privacy Act of 2019 last year, which safeguards the right to safe, legal abortion in Rhode Island, current state laws leave more than 300,000 residents, many of whom are people of color and people with low incomes, with health insurance that does not provide coverage for abortion. Although abortion is legal, for many in Rhode Island – especially those struggling to make ends meet – access to abortion remains out of reach.

In 1976, the United States Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funding to cover abortion except in rare, extreme cases. 16 states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine, allow coverage for abortion in their state Medicaid programs. Most states do not prevent state employees from accessing abortion through their health insurance plans. Passing the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act of 2020 will expand access to sexual and reproductive health care and end discrimination in abortion coverage enshrined in Rhode Island state law.

Below is all the video from the press conference:

“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 Bridget Valverde (District 35, North Kingstown, Narragansett), sponsor of the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act of 2020. “Right now, we have an unfair, discriminatory system in place here in Rhode Island. Medicaid patients and state employees certainly deserve the same coverage as everyone else, but the law explicitly prohibits their insurance from providing it. These policies result in people and their families denied access to health care, and in this case, those impacted are disproportionately poorer Rhode Islanders. 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.”

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“Ensuring that Medicaid and state insurance plans cover abortion will eliminate barriers to equal access to health services,” said Representative Liana Cassar (Democrat, District 66, Barrington, East Providence), sponsor of the Equality in Abortion Act of 2020. “Eliminating barriers will provide individuals the freedom to make their own choices about their health care, their lives and their families.”

“We recognize real inequalities in our state, and we envision a Rhode Island where everyone has access to affordable and comprehensive reproductive health care,” said Nicole Jellinek, Chair of the RICRF. “Last year, we codified the protections of Roe v Wade into state law. The Equality in Abortion Coverage Act of 2020 seeks to expand access. For many people the right to safe and legal abortion means little if they can’t afford the services they need.”

“Health insurance determines access not need. To place coverage restrictions on abortion is to additionally burden those individuals and families who could least afford it,” said Reverend Eugene Dyszlewski, Pastor and Co-chair of the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom. “Restricting access to health care for people who rely on Medicaid only adds to their socioeconomic vulnerability. We see it as a moral obligation to correct this systemic inequity. To replace this frayed thread in the social fabric would benefit everybody.”

“These laws can and must be changed. If we want a health care system—and a political system—that reflects our values of equity and justice, we must put an end to these bans, which enshrine and reinforce our country’s legacy structures of racism and classism,” said Brittany Fonteno, Chief External Affairs Officer at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. “As a result of these systems of oppression, Medicaid coverage of abortion impacts black and brown people and people with low incomes the hardest. This is as much a call for equity in health care as it is for racial and economic justice in our society.’

See also: General Assembly to consider Equality in Abortion Coverage Act

The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom is a coalition of organizations working together to share resources, build strategies, and coordinate efforts to connect reproductive freedom with social and economic justice, protects and advances access to reproductive health care through advocacy and legislative action.

[From a press release and original reporting]