Nina Wolff Landau: Protecting abortion rights is a fight, not a political game
“…I wanted to ask [Secretary Gorbea] why she had canvassed for and donated to former Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, who was endorsed by Rhode Island Right to Life (a far-right anti-choice organization) and the NRA…”
A couple of weeks ago I ran into Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea at a brewery. With Roe v. Wade about to be overturned and the nation wrestling with the latest in a long string of mass-shootings, I wanted to ask her why she had canvassed for and donated to former Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, who was endorsed by Rhode Island Right to Life (a far-right anti-choice organization) and the NRA. Her answer revealed a deep flaw in the way many politicians approach the fight for abortion rights and reproductive justice.
“If you look at my whole trajectory for 30 years” Gorbea stated, “I have been supportive of reproductive rights.” But Gorbea repeatedly dodged my questions asking how she squares that value with supporting Rhode Island’s most notorious opponent of codifying Roe v. Wade.
Gorbea’s support for Mattiello is just the beginning of a concerning pattern. Throughout her political career, Gorbea has been comfortable supporting anti-choice politicians.
In 2018, she campaigned for Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson, who was also endorsed by Right to Life and voted against the Reproductive Privacy Act – the bill that codified Roe v. Wade in Rhode Island. Vella-Wilkinson is also a member of the NRA. In 2020, Gorbea repeated the pattern, campaigning for Senator Walter Felag, another legislator endorsed by Right to Life who had voted against codifying Roe v. Wade about a year earlier.
Over the years, Gorbea and her PAC have donated thousands to legislators endorsed by Right to Life. [Gorbea personal: Mattiello ($450), Paiva Weed ($650), Raptakis ($150), Shekarchi ($100), Desimone ($150)] [Team Nellie Pac Friends of Grace Diaz ($500)]
Perhaps most surprising is that Gorbea has aligned herself with Valerie Gonzalez – a Republican Woonsocket City Councilor and self-identified Trump voter who publicly advocated in 2016 for conservative control of the Supreme Court. Councilor Gonzalez got her wish and now Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Gorbea has had a close political relationship with Councilor Gonzalez over the last several years, congratulating Gonazalez for her election to the Woonsocket City Council in 2020 and listing Gonzalez as a “Co-Host” to the launch of Gorbea’s 2022 gubernatorial campaign – a position reserved for a campaign’s top supporters.
Gorbea’s support for local, anti-choice politicians is setting back the movement to protect abortion rights. There are still 24 Democrats in the General Assembly who voted against codifying Roe v. Wade back in 2019. Many of those Democrats have played a central role in blocking the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act (EACA) this year, which would expand abortion coverage to over 300,000 Rhode Islanders. Representative Vella-Wilkinson, who Gorbea supported, is a member of the House Finance Committee which unanimously voted to hold the EACA for further study – effectively killing it.
Without Roe, the responsibility of protecting abortion rights falls to our local politicians here in Rhode Island. We’re going to need leaders who actually are willing to take on the right-wing politicians fighting to dismantle reproductive freedom, not those who speak at the rally while playing politics behind closed doors.
A leader truly committed to protecting the right to an abortion wouldn’t canvass with the most notorious opponent to the Reproductive Privacy Act, they would not donate and help elect candidates endorsed by Right to Life, and they certainly would not embed a Trump supporter and vocal proponent for a conservative Supreme Court deep within their campaign. A leader truly committed to protecting the right to an abortion would be opposing, not supporting, politicians who are anti-choice.
It’s clear to me Nellie Gorbea cannot defend her support for anti-choice politicians and it’s clear to me she is not the leader our state needs.