21 members of the House implored Speaker Shekarchi to bring the EACA to a vote – to no avail“We, the undersigned, urge you to move the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act out of the House Finance Committee for a vote during this legislative session. This bill would make the right to abortion real for all who need it across the state. In passing this bill, Rhode Island would join 16 other states, including four other New England states, in assuring abortion access…”
Published on June 23, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist
It was after Uprise RI spoke to Rhode Island House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi about the failure of the General Assembly to pass, or even bring up for a vote, the Equality in Abortion Act (EACA) that we learned about a letter, signed by 21 members of the House, “strongly” encouraging the Speaker to bring the Act to a vote “to protect abortion access [and] to ensure that all Rhode Islanders, particularly people of color and low-income individuals, have true and meaningful access to abortion care.”
As the United States Supreme Court comes closer and closer to overturning or substantially revising the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, there are still many people in Rhode Island who cannot access abortion care, despite the passing of the Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA) two years ago. Right now two classes of people are being discriminated against: State employees, who may be surprised to find that their state health insurance coverage does not cover abortion, and those people who get their insurance through Medicaid and associated plans, who are not covered.
The Women’s Health and Education Fund (WHEF) has stated that the average cost of an abortion in RI is $600. “There are many individuals and families who simply do not have anything extra sitting around if their insurance says they won’t cover their abortion,” writes The Womxn Project, a Rhode Island organization that advocates for reproductive rights.
When Uprise RI spoke to Speaker Shekarchi, he said, citing the RPS, that “right now, everyone in Rhode Island has access to abortion care.”
“Not if they can’t afford it,” countered Uprise RI.
As the Womxn Project has stated, “A right is not real if people can’t access or afford that right.”
Speaker Shekarchi placed some of the blame in not passing the EACA on Governor Daniel McKee, saying that the Governor had not included the item in his proposed budget. Speaker Shekarchi also noted that there will be a fiscal cost associated with implementing the EACA that needs to be addressed. “Perhaps the next governor will include the item in their budget,” said Speaker Shekarchi, who added that even if the House were to pass the bill, the Senate will not.
What Speaker Shekarchi did not mention during our conversation was the letter sent to both him and Majority Leader Christopher Blazejewski, signed by 21 members of the Democratic House Caucus, stating that “it is unacceptable for the General Assembly to refuse to take action to protect reproductive rights and maintain a discriminatory policy at a time when the Supreme Court is expected to deny reproductive rights to many across the country.”
The letter, organized and signed by Representative Liana Cassar, is co-signed by Representatives Edith Ajello, Karen Alzate, Susan Donovan, Jason Knight, Kathleen Fogarty, David Morales, Justine Caldwell, Brandon Potter, Terri-Denise Cortvriend, Joshua Giraldo, Rebecca Kislak, Mary Ann Shallcross Smith, Michelle McGaw, Teresa Tanzi, Robert Craven, Leonela Felix, June Speakman, Jose Batista, Arthur Handy and John Lombardi.
Some of those signing onto the letter are on the Speaker’s leadership team, including Representative Craven, who chairs the powerful House Judiciary Committee.
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Uprise RI spoke to Majority Leader Blazejewski about the letter on the floor of the House during a recess on Wednesday. Representative Blazejewski said he was unaware of any such letter. Uprise RI confirmed that the letter was properly delivered and that Representative Cassar collected the signatures for the letter before and during the House session on Friday, June 17. Signatures were collected on the House floor, and it was not done in secret.
Here’s the text of the letter:
In light of the anticipated Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, which is expected to overturn the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, it is imperative that state legislatures take every action possible to protect abortion access. It is unacceptable for the General Assembly to refuse to take action to protect reproductive rights and maintain a discriminatory policy at a time when the Supreme Court is expected to deny reproductive rights to many across the country.
There are abortion bans in Rhode Island and it is time to eliminate them. Our state effectively bans the 77,000 women of reproductive age covered by Medicaid and the 32,000 Rhode Islanders covered by the state employee health insurance plans from abortion access because the plans, by law, do not cover abortion.
Rhode Island’s abortion bans codify discrimination into state-sponsored health insurance. The bans are poor health policy and poor economic policy. The bans inflict a medical and economic burden on patients and their health care providers. The bans compromise the health of patients and push many individuals further into poverty while denying them bodily autonomy.
The Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, currently held for further study in the House of Representatives Finance Committee, will eliminate Rhode Island’s abortion bans. It is time to bring this legislation to a vote, correct this injustice and eliminate the bans.
The General Assembly did important work in passing the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019, codifying protections assured by the Roe v. Wade decision. The intent of the Reproductive Privacy Act is not realized if all pregnant people do not have access to abortion care when they need it.
We, the undersigned, urge you to move the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act out of the House Finance Committee for a vote during this legislative session. This bill would make the right to abortion real for all who need it across the state. In passing this bill, Rhode Island would join 16 other states, including four other New England states, in assuring abortion access.