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Rhode Islanders travel to the United States Supreme Court to fight for reproductive rights



“Abortion is normal, abortion is healthcare, abortion is freedom, abortion is our human right.”

2020 is an important year for women. Not only does it mark the centennial of the 19th amendment’s ratification, it also marks the 47th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision on Roe v Wade, the 7-2 decision that stated that a woman’s right to an abortion is protected under privacy laws enacted in the 14th amendment. However, despite precedent, in the subsequent years following Roe v Wade there have been several attempts to dismantle the court’s decades old decision on both the state and federal levels.

In Rhode Island, local religious groups and legislators have been attempting to block pro-choice legislation from passing on the state level but have been largely unsuccessful. Reproductive freedom activist groups like non-profit, feminist organization The Womxn Project, have organized and campaigned diligently for the passing of the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, which was introduced to state legislators earlier this year. The Womxn Project also advocated for the passing of the Reproductive Privacy Act, which codified Roe v Wade into Rhode Island law and was passed by the general assembly in June of last year.

Yojaida with Elizabeth Banks on the steps of the SCOTUS

This week, abortion rights were once again on the chopping block. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard June Medical Services LLC v Russo, a case from Louisiana that challenged targeted restrictions on abortion providers, or TRAP Laws, that require abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. These laws place an unnecessary burden on both patients and providers and were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in an almost identical case from Texas in 2016. To show support for women in Louisiana and abortion providers, 50 Rhode Islanders from the The Womxn Project made the 400 mile trek down to Washington, DC.

The Rhode Island delegation sported matching teal t-shirts that displayed pictures of the three female Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor and attended a rally in front of the Supreme Court organized by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). According to CRR the rally attracted close to 4,000 people including actress Elizabeth Banks who works as chair of the Creative Council for CRR. At the rally, Banks asserted to an enthusiastic crowd, “Abortion is normal, abortion is healthcare, abortion is freedom, abortion is our human right.”

Following the rally, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) hosted visitors from The Womxn Project where they discussed federal and state policy on childcare, abortion and contraception. The Womxn Project also hosted a livestream at NWLC that was aired to fellow activists from various state-wide reproductive freedom groups such as, the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, who spent the day lobbying at the Rhode Island State House.

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During the livestream, Senior Counsel Heather Shumaker from NWLC told viewers, “Nothing has changed. Abortion is still super safe, the burden is still undue. The only thing that has changed is the makeup of the Supreme Court.” Shumaker also stated that NWLC felt good after the attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Freedom’s oral arguments on Wednesday and were happy to see some of the justices ask the Louisiana lawyers tough questions.

Co-founder of The Womxn Project, Jordan Hevenor, expressed to viewers, “Today its been made so clear that it is really important for us as Rhode Islanders to keep showing up to protect access and to ensure access is a reality for all Rhode Islanders. It’s what we’ve been here talking about and I’m excited that you’re there to talk about it at the State House and we can connect our advocacy in Rhode Island with the advocacy going on around the country.”

During their stay in the nation’s capital, the Rhode Island delegation also met with Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and received a briefing from CRR on the Women’s Health and Protection Act (WHPA), which would protect access to abortion care and block unnecessary bans and restrictions like the ones in Louisiana at the federal and state levels. WHPA is currently cosponsored by Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse as well as United States Representative David Cicilline.

Sheldon Whitehouse

Notably absent from the legislation is United States Representative Jim Langevin who, according to his website, considers himself “pro-life” but also believes dismantling Roe v Wade “could tear deeply at the fabric of our nation.” At a briefing on Tuesday prior to a meeting with Senators Reed and Whitehouse, Senior Federal Legislative Council for CRR, Sara Outterson told The Womxn Project, “As we get closer to a vote we would really love people to keep writing, particularly to Congressman Langevin, and let him know how important WHPA is to you.” Outterson went on to further explain that although Congressman Langevin is open to speaking to CRR, the likelihood of his sponsorship is slim. Outterson stated, “I think this is going to be a very hard vote for him. Realistically, I don’t expect a co-sponsor from Congressman Langevin.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights also presented the Rhode Island delegation a letter signed by 14 attorney generals across the country, including Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha, to be given to Senator Reed urging him to co-sponsor WHPA, after which Senator Reed announced to The Womxn Project that as of March 3, he would be officially joining Senator Whitehouse as a co-sponsor on WHPA.

The Women’s Health Protection Act presently has 43 sponsors in the Senate and 215 in the House of Representatives.

The United States Supreme Court is set to release a decision on June Medical Services LLC v Russo in late June.

All photos this piece (c)2020 S.Moniz