Speak Up, Speak Out: Women share their abortion experiences

Laura Harmon

Women from Rhode Island and across the Atlantic gathered at the First Unitarian Church of Providence on Sunday afternoon to share powerful, personal stories about why they support the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA) (The 2018 versions can be read here: S2163/H7340), which would ensure the rights guaranteed under Roe v Wade on a state level should the United States Supreme Court overturn the decision.

With President Donald Trump‘s keeping his promise to nominate justices to overturn Roe, and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the days of safe and legal abortions in Rhode Island may be ending soon. Action on the RHCA has been blocked in the General Assembly by Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggiero, despite polling on the issue demonstrating strong support.

The Speak Out Speak Up event was organized by The Woman Project and based on a similar event held decades ago by the former executive director of Planned Parenthood Rhode Island, Mary Ann Sorrentino. Sorrentino spoke at the event.

The keynote address was delivered by Laura Harmon, who led the mobilization team for the successful Together for Yes campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment in Ireland in earlier this year. Also from Ireland was Rita Harrold, an organizer with the ROSA-Socialist Feminist Movement.

Below is all the video from the event that can be made public. At the end of the program women were invited to speak about their personal stories of abortion, and that was not for video.

The speaker bios are courtesy of The Woman Project.

Human rights advocate Stephanie Olarte represented The Woman Project and is the creator of CanIwalk.

Tina Cane is a poet, teacher and the founder/director of a visiting writer program called Writers-in-the-Schools, Rhode Island. She also currently serve as the sixth Poet Laureate of the state of Rhode Island and is the mother of three children.

Mary Ann Sorrentino, has worked tirelessly for 41 years in support of women’s reproductive freedom in Rhode Island. As the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island from 1977-1987, she fought to preserve the newly decided Roe v Wade, oversaw Rhode Island’s first outpatient abortion clinic, and expanded access to both contraceptives and education to name only a few of her numerous accomplishments. Mary Ann’s name is nearly synonymous with Planned Parenthood. She was also one of Rhode Island’s first AIDS buddies, Chaired the State Health Department’s Family Planning Advisory Council, brought peer sex-ed counseling into Providence public high schools and Expanded Planned Parenthood services to include male and female sterilizations, AIDS support groups, and sexual issues for seniors, gay and lesbian men and women, and she pioneered in getting third party insurance coverage for Planned Parenthood services including abortions.

Dr Barbara Roberts, MD was the first female adult cardiologist in the state of Rhode Island. She graduated from Barnard College and Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. As a resident at Yale New Haven Hospital, she became active in the pro-choice movement, even before Roe v Wade. She helped found the Women’s National Abortion Action Coalition (WONAAC) and was the keynote speaker at the first national pro-choice demonstration in Washington DC in November 1971. She also was active in the anti-Vietnam War movement, and spoke at the last mass anti-war demonstration on the grounds of the Washington Monument on the day of Richard Nixon’s inauguration in 1973.

Dr Roberts was a staff physician at Planned Parenthood for many years, and continues on the voluntary faculty at Brown University where she is an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine.

Edith H. Ajello (D) has served the residents of the East Side of Providence since first being elected in November 1992. She represents the constituents of District 1, which was previously District 3 before the completion of the redistricting process that took effect in 2013. Representative Ajello serves as the First Vice-Chairwoman of the House Committee on Judiciary and previously served as chairwoman of that committee.

Representative Ajello has been a strong proponent of protecting individuals’ privacy and human rights. She was the cosponsor of the first-in-the-nation Homeless Bill of Rights, and also sponsored the bills that added gender identity to the state’s hate crimes law and banned “conversion therapy” on minors. She has sponsored or cosponsored laws protecting citizens’ privacy by requiring law enforcement officers to obtain warrants for location data from cellular phones and other electronic devices, banning employers and schools from demanding access or passwords to the social media accounts of applicants and reducing racial profiling and warrantless searches of minors. She was the sponsor of the law ensuring that any voter who is line to vote at the time polls close is allowed to cast his or her vote, and the law requiring post-election audits to ensure voting equipment functioned properly.

During her tenure as chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee, major revisions to the Access to Public Records Act were enacted, “Super PACs” were required to disclose their major donors, and possession of a small amount of marijuana was made a civil offense rather than a crime.

In addition to her duties as a legislator, Representative Ajello also serves on the Board of Directors for the Women’s Health and Education Fund. She has a long history of service with various organizations, including the Coalition to Preserve Choice. For her legislative efforts regarding civil liberties, Representative Ajello was awarded the Rhode Island Affiliate of the ACLU’s Raymond J. Pettine Civil Libertarian of the Year in 2006.

The Rev. Dr. David A. Ames is an Episcopal priest, teacher, and consultant for non-profit organizations. He served as the Episcopal Chaplain at Brown University for 29 years, and Clinical Assistant Professor of Community Health in the Brown Medical School. He is a former board chair of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island, and later served on the Clergy Advocacy Board of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Following his time at Brown, David served for several years as an Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Rhode Island College. Currently, he is a founding member of the Center for Reconciliation, a non-profit focused on legacies of Rhode Island’s slave trade history and dedicated to education and training for the work of racial reconciliation. As a consultant and former Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Empower Success Corps New England (ESCNE), he works with non-profit groups on issues of board development and strategic planning. He is a former trustee of the Wheeler School in Providence, and the Board of Directors of New Urban Arts, Providence. He is now a member of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island.

Jennifer Rourke graduated from Elms College with a B.A. in Health Care Management. She is the mother of four children and a recent surrogate. She recently ran for State Senate District 29, is married to a Veteran and former police officer and currently is a homemaker.

Laura Harmon led the mobilization team for the successful Together for Yes campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment in Ireland in 2018. Laura’s role in the campaign was focused on voter mobilization. This work included organizing a national conversations tour which traveled across Ireland stopping in every county, coordinating the Get out The Vote phase of the campaign, organizing regional launches and working on the register to vote campaign. The mobilization team liaised on a daily basis with local Together for Yes groups across Ireland providing information and support. She was the president of the Union of Students in Ireland in 2014/2015 during the marriage equality referendum. During her time as president of Union of Students in Ireland (USI), she led the Students for Marriage Equality campaign. Laura has expertise in running voter registration campaigns and under her leadership USI directly registered 27,000 students to vote. Laura was the first woman president of USI in 20 years and during her tenure, USI initiated an annual women in leadership training program for women students to help increase the numbers of women running in student politics. Laura was Equality and Citizenship Officer with the Union of Students in Ireland from 2012-2014. She is currently the Women in Leadership Coordinator with the National Women’s Council of Ireland and works to reform structures and culture that will enable women’s progress in politics, boardrooms and senior positions in the public and private sector. Laura also works with young women to increase their leadership aspirations and skills. She is an experienced public speaker and has conducted national media interviews in broadcast and print. She holds a B.A. in English and French and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from University College Cork. Laura lives in Dublin.

Dr. Pablo Rodriguez has a BS in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico, Doctor in Medicine from the State University of New York in Buffalo and completed his residency in 1985 from Nassau County Medical Center in New York. He is now Associate Professor of OBGYN at Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University. He was the President and CEO of Women’s Care, a multispecialty group in southern New England and is the former Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island. He is a former Chair of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, the Rhode Island Community Foundation, International Institute of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Project AIDS. He also has been a board member of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the National Abortion Federation. He founded Latino Public Radio and hosted a daily radio show in Spanish on health care issues for which he was recently awarded the Metcalf Media Award. He is also the Founding Chair of the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee.

Kebé has her hands in planning all of the Team’s trainings and presentations, is an organizer, facilitator, and master of spreadsheets. She is the Team’s main point of contact on any training or presentation requests. She has used both advocacy and grassroots organizing as tools to realize reproductive justice. She has worked with legal advocates to oppose the punishment and surveillance of marginalized pregnant and parenting people, and sees organizing as a powerful tool to increase access to abortion and oppose state violence in her communities as experienced through policing and mass incarceration. Her parents are her favorite Black feminists, and she dreams of one day supporting Black and brown folks as a birth doula.

Lynette Labinger is an attorney in private practice in Providence, Rhode Island with a litigation practice concentrating in civil rights and employment discrimination law. She first came to Rhode Island in 1974 after completing law school to clerk for Judge Raymond J. Pettine of the federal district court. Lynette is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and has been recognized as a New England “Super Lawyer” each year since 2007, and featured in its 2010 edition for her contributions to civil rights advocacy. In 2010, the Rhode Island Commission on Women named Labinger their “Woman of the Year/Advocacy.” In June of 2018, she was honored by Rhode Island Legal Services with its “Equal Justice Award.” Lynette served as lead trial and appellate counsel for the plaintiff class in the landmark Title IX sex discrimination case challenging the treatment of women athletes at Brown University (Cohen v. Brown University). She is also a long-time cooperating attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, which has twice honored her with its Civil Libertarian of the Year Award. Lynette has litigated many high profile civil rights cases in Rhode Island, including cases involving reproductive rights and First Amendment rights. Working primarily with the ACLU of RI and Planned Parenthood, Lynette has successfully challenged as unconstitutional many of the laws passed by the General Assembly in the 1980s and 1990s restricting decisions on reproductive choice and has more recently testified before the General Assembly in support of passage of the Reproductive Health Care Act.

Rita Harrold is an organizer with the Irish group ROSA-Socialist Feminist Movement. ROSA campaigned on a fully pro-choice basis for a yes vote in the recent referendum to repeal Ireland’s archaic abortion ban, the 8th Amendment. ROSA worked as the Socialist Feminist wing of the broad abortion rights movement with a campaigning focus on abortion but also active on a range of other issues particularly solidarity with the feminist movements internationally, protesting austerity, etc. They have been pushing for the referendum to be called for the last 5 years since the tragic and unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar, who died of sepsis after being denied an abortion in 2012, provoked a resurgence in the abortion rights movement. ROSA spearheaded campaigning on the issue of early medical abortion pills alongside telemedical group Women On Web. Rita assisted in organizing actions including the Abortion Pill Train in 2014 where activists imported pills and took them in front of the media in order to demonstrate their safety, spread information on how to get them and put a challenge to the government to change the law.

Stephanie Olarte
Tina Cane
Mary Ann Sorrentino
Barbara Roberts
Edie Ajello
David Ames
Jennifer Rourke
Pablo Rodriguez
Kebe
Lynette Labinger
Rita Harrold

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About Steve Ahlquist 628 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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