Gloria Steinem and former NARAL president back Matt Brown, say Raimondo not to be trusted on reproductive rights

Gina Raimondo

The Matt Brown for Governor campaign has released a letter, signed by prominent women’s rights advocate Gloria Steinem, former NARAL Pro-Choice America (NARAL) President Emerita Kate MichelmanBarbara Roberts of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Rhode Island State Senator Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick) and others, that puts a spotlight on Governor Gina Raimondo’s anti-choice governing record and the specific actions she took in her first year in office to restrict abortion coverage in Rhode Island. Raimondo’s restrictions were the first anti-choice legislation passed in Rhode Island in nearly two decades.

Matt Brown

“I don’t think voters in Rhode Island really know what Governor Raimondo’s done that has really violated the reproductive rights of women and threatened their health,” said Kate Michelman in a phone call. “It’s very dangerous for women, especially low-income women, women of color and working class women.

“Governor Raimondo is not a governor women can depend on to protect and defend their rights and to advance their health and equality and economic security,” continued Michelman. “Raimondo has not been totally honest with the voters of Rhode Island about what she’s done that has harmed women and weakened their rights as to freedom of reproductive choice.

“I’m sure many would say, ‘What is Kate doing here?’ This is the year of women and women running. Well Kate’s doing exactly what she’s done all her life, which is to ensure that we have candidates who will deeply protect reproductive freedom and choice and ensure health are for women,” finished Michelman. “And that’s not Raimondo.”

I covered this issue while writing for RI Future in 2015. At the time I wrote:

“When Governor Gina Raimondo signed the budget on Tuesday, she officially signed into law language that stands as the most extreme anti-abortion language passed in Rhode Island in two decades. And because it was slipped into the budget as part of the language that codifies HealthSource Rhode Island, the state’s highly successful Obamacare insurance exchange, and not submitted as a bill, this new law was passed with no legislative debate and no chance for any input from the public.”

Raimondo made two decisions in 2015 that lead to this crisis. First, she settled the Doe v Burwell lawsuit when she didn’t have to. Doe, who chose to remain anonymous because of his HIV+ status, claimed that he was unable, due to his religious beliefs, to contribute money to any health plan that covered abortion, and that his needs as an HIV+ man meant that waiting until 2017 for the one plan that does not cover abortion mandated under federal law was not practical.

Doe was represented in his lawsuit by the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and supported by both Rhode Island Right to Life and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence. It was far from certain that Doe and the ADF would win the suit since HealthSource RI was operating fully in accordance with Federal law and accommodations had been offered to Doe.

But Raimondo caved, and caved hard. After settling a case she did not have to, she decided to go further than existing federal law and submitted legislation mandating that insurers offer multiple plans that omit abortion coverage. Every insurer was forced to offer a plan at every tier of coverage. Federal law mandates that at least one plan on a state exchange offer no coverage for abortion. Raimondo insisted on what amounted to nine plans.

Raimondo’s behind the scenes budget shenanigans ultimately resulted in an estimated 9000 people losing their abortion coverage under Obamacare.

As a result of her actions, NARAL rated Governor Gina Raimondo as “mixed-choice” in its next report, a step down from her previous rating as “pro-choice.” Raimondo had run as a pro-choice candidate, earning the endorsement of Planned Parenthood Votes RI PAC and Emily’s List.

Here is the full letter and list of signatories:

Dear Rhode Islanders,

Today it is more important than ever for state governments to help defend and support a woman’s right to choose. Across the country and in Rhode island, anti-choice extremists are attacking reproductive rights, enacting laws to shut down abortion clinics, restricting insurance coverage for abortion and engaging in legal and legislative assaults against choice.

Since day one of the Trump administration, we’ve seen a direct assault on women’s health and rights, and it’s not letting up. In just the last few weeks, Trump unveiled his latest attack on reproductive freedom – the domestic gag rule, an egregious attack on Title X, the nation’s program for affordable birth control and reproductive care that millions rely on. This is on top of of the attacks – begun even before his presidency –  by Trump and his appointees to undermine access to birth control. Trump promised to appoint anti-choice judges, and now we’re potentially one vacancy away from a Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v Wade.

Alarmingly, Rhode Island’s Democratic Governor has joined the attack on reproductive freedom. The Affordable Care Act requires each state exchange to include at least one plan that doesn’t cover abortion. Governor Raimondo forced insurers in Rhode Island to offer nine plans that restricted abortion coverage. Further, Raimondo personally intervened in the state budget process to force the coverage changes in a way that would avoid public scrutiny. According to reporting in several outlets, Raimondo’s coverage restrictions resulted in 9,000 Rhode Island families at risk of losing abortion coverage. Her restrictions represented the state’s “first anti-abortion legislation in over 15 years,” according to the ACLU. NARAL has given Rhode Island an “F” grade for the state’s “severely restricted” abortion access under Raimondo.

These restrictions put employers in control of women’s health choices by allowing them to choose the level of reproductive health coverage their employees may obtain. They also force women to notify their employers if they want a plan that covers abortion, and force them to pay for it out of pocket.

Restrictions on insurance for abortion have negative impacts for millions of women, especially low-income women, including higher out-of-pocket costs, increased stress, delays in accessing abortion care, and the inability to access abortion care altogether. Raimondo’s severe Medicaid cuts and devastating UHIP mismanagement have disproportionately and overwhelmingly negatively affected women and the state’s most vulnerable. This is unacceptable anywhere — but especially in a blue state where overwhelming majorities identify as pro-choice.

We believe Rhode Island needs Matt Brown to be our next Governor. On reproductive freedom, Brown will be a strong, consistent and unequivocal leader. He will take on the Trump administration’s attacks on reproductive freedom, roll back Raimondo’s anti-choice abortion restrictions, and use all means available to pass the Reproductive Health Care Act – protecting abortion access and reproductive freedom in Rhode Island. With our rights, freedoms and health under siege Matt Brown will be a Governor who will take on the Trump-Pence Administration’s anti-woman, anti-choice attacks and fight not just to protect reproductive freedom in Rhode Island, but to expand it.

Rhode Island’s gubernatorial race is about values and priorities – and whether we’ll have a candidate for Governor who respects the fundamental right of women to make their own decisions or a candidate who campaigns as pro-choice but governs as anti-choice. The ground under our feet is shifting, and women’s reproductive freedom and health are under attack — the time to fight is now.

Alethia Mariotta

Alicia Kelley

Amanda Graziano

Andrea James-Gómez

Ashia Graziano

Barbara Roberts

Bridget Graziano

Capri Catanzaro

Catherine Hillery

Christine E. Ryan

Cristen Doyle Cobery

Elizabeth Silva de Balboa

Emily Murphy Prior

Erica Florenz

Gloria Steinem

Heather Lofkin Wright

Jane Pellegren

Senator Jeanine Calkin

Jennifer Siciliano

Jennifer Dalton Vincent

Joan Slafsky

Joanne Borodemos

Judith Tolnick Champa

Julia Rock

Kate Michelman

Kendra Anderson

Kristen Ivy Moses

Lauren Niedel

Linda Ujifusa

Leah Abbott Murphy

Maggie Kain

Marisa Brown

Martina Muller

Mary Jane Murphy

Monica Martinez

Sabina Griffin

Sally Jane Wilson

Sara Alberti

Sarah Gleason

Shannon Donahue

Sunny Johnston

Sylvia Bernal

Tara Nummedal

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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

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