“Protecting reproductive freedom, including access to contraception and safe, legal abortion, is important to me as a woman of color and health care provider,” said Danika Severino Wynn, a midwife and Manager of the Planned Parenthood of Southern New England Providence Health Center. “The four Democrats who hold the top four positions in the Assembly, all white men, refuse to allow a vote on the Reproductive Health Care Act. In fact, three of them, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello are endorsed by radical, anti-abortion rights groups and have sponsored legislation to restrict access to abortion. House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi, while not endorsed by anti-abortion rights groups, has refused to make a public statement about whether or not he supports Roe v Wade and opposes bringing the Reproductive Health Care Act to the floor. My hope is that we will soon value bodily integrity and the right to self-determination more than the ethos of four white men.”
Severino Wynn earned sustained applause and a standing ovation for her words from the over 75 people crammed into the Senate Lounge at the Rhode Island State House. She continued saying that General Assembly leadership, “refuse to allow an up or down vote in the Assembly on the Reproductive Health Care Act. Without a vote, Rhode Islanders have no way of truly knowing where their own state senator and representatives stand on the fundamental issue of reproductive freedom. By refusing to allow a vote, we are forced to ask each of them one very simple question: What are you afraid of?”
The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, a group of more than 15 organizations that are working together to share resources, build strategies and coordinate efforts to connect reproductive freedom with social and economic justice, convened a press conference announcing their legislative agenda for 2018. At the center of their concern: the Reproductive Health Care Act of 2018.
“In this time of grave and growing threat to reproductive freedom at the federal level, Rhode Islanders are mobilizing like never before to defend and expand our reproductive rights,” said Nicole Jellinek, President of the Temple Habonim Board of Trustees, who emceed the event.
After the press conference, coalition members and supporters delivered letters to Governor Gina Raimondo, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello asking for their public support of the Reproductive Health Care Act and to meet with the Coalition.
“When a Presidential administration actually holds young immigrant women hostage to prevent them from obtaining an abortion, and when the United States Senate takes up a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy even if the person’s health is at serious risk, the time has clearly come for people in Rhode Island who care about reproductive freedom to take action in order to protect this fundamental right,” said Steven Brown, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island.
Rhode Island is the only New England state to be labeled as “hostile” to abortion rights, according to The Guttmacher Institute. PEW Research Center polling shows that Rhode Island residents support keeping abortion safe and legal by a 2-to-1 margin.
“Safe and effective health care, including reproductive choice, will always be available to those of wealth and means,” said the Reverend Dr Dale Azevedo, Senior Minister at the Barrington Congregational Church and member of the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. “It is the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised who need their rights and freedoms protected.”
In 2017 and 2018, thousands of people gathered at the Rhode Island Women’s March – standing up for the rights of all people as the movement for reproductive freedom continued to grow. It also included new organizations being formed, like The Woman Project, whose co-founder Jordan Hevenor, also spoke at the press conference.
“After the election we were surprised to realize that despite all the hard work that had been happening that our state was rated as hostile to reproductive rights and got an F from NARAL,” said Hevenor. “Through research and conversation we learned that many of our friends and neighbors were concerned about losing reproductive health care… As we kept having these conversations, we kept coming back to this idea that in the 45 years since Roe v Wade, Rhode Island had not passed legislation protecting access to safe and legal abortion. ”
“This Coalition shows us how powerful we can be when we come together. We are leading the nation, especially when it comes to efforts to clean up our law books, to be sure women’s choices are properly protected,” said Hilary Levey Friedman, President of the Rhode Island National Organization for Women.
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