Reproductive Health Care Act gets its hearing at a busy State House

Bills dealing with guns, immigration and reproductive rights were heard in the Rhode Island House Committee on the Judiciary Tuesday evening, a perfect storm of contentious issues guaranteed to elicit strong emotions and strong advocacy. In a sense, the combined size of these issues was unfortunate, as it overshadowed the advancement of significant legislation, such as the Rhode Island State Senate unanimously passing Senator Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence)’s Fair Pay Act, which would provide protections and transparency in the workplace to help women and people of color demand equal pay for equal work, Senator Maryellen Goodwin (Democrat, District 1, Providence)’s bill (S2638A), which would collect data from employers of 100 or more people in Rhode Island to help determine industries and areas where pay gaps occur, and two pieces of legislation introduced by Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) that would empower patients to curb the possibility of opiate addiction.

House Judiciary began the evening passing four bills onto the House floor for full votes. The bills dealing with guns were the “red flag” bill, that would “create extreme risk protection orders so courts could disarm people whose behavior is believed by authorities to pose a serious threat to others or themselves” and the “bump stock” bill that would “make possession or use of a semi-automatic weapon rapid fire device —including a bump stock, binary trigger or trigger crank — punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.”

As a result of the imminent passage of these bills, a large contingent of Second Amendment Coalition advocates, a “show of force,” arrived at the State House to send a message of disapproval. Advocates, mostly wearing yellow shirts, gathered around the main rotunda, occasionally organizing themselves into a chorus chanting, “Our votes matter! Our votes matter!”

Meanwhile, circling the State House was a small flotilla of pick-up trucks with American and Gadsden Flags fluttering behind them.

“Our votes matter!”

At one point a group of women walked from the front entrance of the State House down the hallway towards room 101 where the House Judiciary Committee meeting was taking place and then back towards the steps of the main rotunda dressed as Handmaids from the book and television series The Handmaid’s Tale, set in “near-future New England, in a totalitarian, Christian theonomy that has overthrown the United States government.” In this dystopian tale, misogyny and patriarchy are taken to their brutal, anti-woman conclusions.

As the women walked, silently making their point about the need for the passage of the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA), which would “protect the abortion rights articulated by Roe v Wade by eliminating unconstitutional chapters of state law that contradict the findings of that case,” they were insulted, belittled and mocked by various men and women there to support gun rights or to oppose the reproductive rights of women.

“Shameful! Shameful!” said a man.

“You look very silly!” said a woman.

“You’re disgusting pigs!” said another man.

After the two gun bills were voted out of committee, which was inevitable given the way the State House works, the Second Amendment advocates began to leave the building, leaving behind those who advocate for women’s reproductive rights, including abortion, and those who oppose women’s reproductive rights.

Six bills on reproductive and abortion rights were being heard by the House Judiciary Committee. Five of the bills seek to limit reproductive rights in some way:

  • H7026, from Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence), defines and prohibits dismemberment abortions with certain exceptions.
  • H7113, from Representative Ramon Perez (Democrat, District 13, Providence, Johnston), criminalizes the knowing and intentional failure of a physician, nurse, or other licensed medical person to provide reasonable medical care and treatment to an infant born alive a felony and manslaughter if the infant dies.
  • H7164, also from Perez, enacts the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act and provide for the duties and obligations of medical personnel in certain circumstances.
  • H7180, from Representative James McLaughlin (Democrat, District 57, Central Falls), is a House resolution recognizing the fetus as a human life upon the existence of a heartbeat
  • H7735, from Representative Camille Vella Wilkinson (Democrat, District 21, Warwick), makes the practice of aiding a minor in the process of getting an abortion a civil and criminal offense.

H7340, known as the Reproductive Health Care Act and introduced by Representative Edith Ajello (Democrat, District 1, Providence), prohibits the state from restricting persons from terminating pregnancy prior to fetal viability and would repeal laws regulating abortion.

Testimony lasted long past midnight. I’ll have all the video of everyone who testified up in a separate post soon. In the meantime, here’s snippets of some of the testimony given in support of the Reproductive Health Care Act by people representing various groups represented by the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom:

“Public support continues to grow for the Reproductive Health Care Act. Today, Rhode Islanders made their support for reproductive freedom known,” said Craig O’Connor, RI Director of Public Policy & Government Relations with Planned Parenthood Votes! RI. “We appreciate Chairperson Cale Keable (Democrat, District 47, Burrillville, Glocester) for holding this hearing and listening to voters. The people of Rhode Island deserve to know where their legislators stand on reproductive freedom and we fully expect the committee to send this to the House for a vote.”

Lynette Labinger, an Attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, said that passing the Reproductive Health Care Act would not change existing laws, but rather, would codify the protections of Roe v Wade in Rhode Island. “Many advocates of reproductive freedom are deeply, and understandably, worried about the future of Roe v Wade in a reconstituted United States Supreme Court. Even if Roe itself is never overturned, there is legitimate concern about the Court eroding the principles underlying that decision to the point that a person’s ability to make this highly personal and private decision is denied, with government making the decision instead.”

Sulina Mohanty, Chairperson of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus, said that state law does not protect women equally when it comes to their personal health care and medical decisions. “On behalf of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus and the majority of Rhode Islanders who want to protect women’s reproductive rights, I urge you to bring the Reproductive Health Care Act to a vote and pass it without delay.”

Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman, Senior Rabbi with Temple Beth-El in Providence, Rhode Island, said that everyone has the right to make choices for themselves. “In accordance with Rhode Island’s proud history of freedom of choice and conscience, let us be proactive in protecting a woman’s right to choose – a woman’s right to full and complete autonomy.”

Justine Caldwell, a Democratic candidate for State Representative District 30, said that more women are seeking office to enact policies – like the Reproductive Health Care Act – that reflect their lives and experiences. “Women like me, awakened by the results of the 2016 election to the knowledge that if we want our point of view to be represented and our lives and livelihoods to be protected, we need to step into the arena and win our own seats at the table. This is how we will protect ourselves and represent our sisters and our daughters.”

Rhode Island Resident Wayne Goodlin read a statement on behalf of his wife Diane Barense, who serves on the PPV!RI Political Action Committee and could not attend the hearing. “I do not ask legislators to choose abortion for themselves. I do not ask them to recommend it to their families and loved ones – that’s their business. I simply ask them to trust women, in consultation with their families and doctors, to make responsible choices for their reproductive futures. I ask for this basic demonstration of respect.”

Hilary Levey Friedman, President of the Rhode Island National Organization for Women said that passing the Reproductive Health Care Act is an essential economic issue for women in the state – especially those with low- incomes. “Reproductive freedom is clearly critical to issues of economic inequality. Women who desired an abortion, but did not have access, were three times as likely to fall into poverty, and wind up unemployed. The costs of ignoring women’s reproductive freedom are high. If you support lowering the rates of inequality in Rhode Island and promoting economic justice, you must support the Reproductive Health Care Act.”

June Speakman, a Professor of Political Science at Roger Williams University said that the state should not continue to wait for the Supreme Court to erode protections of Roe and should act now. “Even if the Court does not overturn Roe, it will chip away at reproductive choice by permitting states to enact onerous restrictions until Roe is meaningless. There is plenty to worry about and no time to wait.”

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo submitted written testimony in support of the Reproductive Health Care Act. I believe this is the first time the Governor has submitted any testimony in support of reproductive rights to the General Assembly.

It was a big night and more happened than I could keep up with. The Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women (RI NOW) provided free childcare in the State House Library for those who wished to testify. Governor Raimondo treated the kids to pizza and snacks in her office, though the Governor herself was not in the State House at the time.

The overflow room was overflowing.
The Woman Project brought their petition quilt.

The petition quilt.

Barth Bracy, from Rhode Island Right to Life, testifies.
The petition quilt.

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About Steve Ahlquist 528 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com

1 Comment

  1. what strikes me as sad about the anti-choice women is that they are (mostly) well meaning, but in many cases indoctrinated since childhood into accepting male religious authority proclamations against abortion (sometimes birth control) and they have been duped into not seeing how cruel it is for men who can never be pregnant to try to force women to carry out pregnancies against their will. I

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