Rhode Island lawmakers on Wednesday voted to guarantee abortion rights with a possible Supreme Court review of Roe v. Wade looming. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate approved the House’s abortion rights bill on Wednesday evening.
In the Senate, debate stretched on for several hours and a total of five amendments were introduced, all of which were struck down. The bill was approved by a vote of 21 to 17. Later in the House, the bill was once again approved in a vote of 35 to 29. Just before 9:30 p.m., the bill became Rhode Island law when it was signed by Governor Gina Raimondo.
Across the country, state legislators have taken sides on abortion rights in recent months. In the Northeast region, New York, Vermont and Maine approved similar legislation to codify abortions rights, while several others have passed controversial “heartbeat bills” that ban abortions in nearly all circumstances.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Erin Lynch Prata said the bill is the result of hours of research, careful consideration and collaboration between legislators.
“We have used caution, we have studied, we have done everything we can,” the Warwick Democrat said.
Cranston Sen. Hanna Gallo said she believes the bill is the right choice for Rhode Island.
“I have always been pro-life…[but] I firmly believe what I’m doing is the right thing,” Sen. Gallo said thanking Sen. Lynch Prata for her counsel throughout the committee process, saying she let her voice concerns and talked her through why the bill is important.
Five amendments were introduced over the course of the debate. All were voted down. The first would have required a physician administer anesthesia to a fetus beyond 20 weeks before performing the procedure. The second amendment would have required that all late-term abortions happen only in the case of “medical emergencies. “
The third amendment called for increased inspections for facilities providing abortions, a proposal Lynch Prata called tantamount to unconstitutional “trap statutes,” that unduly limit a clinic’s ability to perform under the guise of safety regulation.
The fourth amendment called for a change to the language surrounding Medicaid support of an abortion procedure, while the fifth, called for a “trigger” clause, meaning the bill would only take effect in Rhode Island if Roe v. Wade was overturned at the federal level.
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South Kingstown Senator Susan Sosnowski said she received dozens of letters, phone calls and postcards from constituents urging her to support or vote against the bill. She quoted one woman in particular, who referenced federal court precedent as well as the constitution in her argument in the legislation’s favor.
“Your body and your mind are yours to do with as you see fit, and my body and my mind are mine to do with as I see fit,” the Democrat quoted in part. “No one owns your body.”
Several Republican members rose in opposition to the bill, quoting scripture and saying it was the legislators’ duty to protect the sanctity of life and practice God’s will.
Immediately following the bill’s passage, a cheer went up in the Senate chamber. The legislators then voted to send the bill back to the House of Representatives, where it must be voted on once again because it has been amended since it was passed in the chamber in March.
“This bill also acknowledges that women have the moral agency to make their own decisions, including when and whether to become a parent. While this bill maintains the current status quo on access to abortion, the passage of this legislation is about far more than the law it will create. It is about showing that Rhode Island finally recognizes a pregnant person’s right to make her own health care decisions,” said Senator Gayle Goldin, one of the most vocal supporters of the bill and the sponsor of the Senate version. “The Reproductive Privacy Act is 46 years in the making. I’d like to thank the generations who advocated before me, including the women who proceeded me in office that led this fight for decades.”
In an unusual move, the bill was sent to the full Senate for consideration after Senator Lynch Prata transferred from the Judiciary to the Health and Human Services Committee, where it was approved in a vote of 8 to 2.
About an hour later, the House of Representatives was reconvened and debate began again. The anesthesia requirement amendment was once again introduced and, as in the Senate, was strongly defeated. As with thefirst House debate on the same bill, emotions ran high, with representatives on both sides of the aisle speaking both for an against the bill.
“The motivation of this bill is not a strict codification, of Roe v. Wade, rather an expansion,” said North Providence Representative Arthur Corvese, adding that the bill was not substantially changed from the original version originally passed in the House.
“I say to everyone here, on behalf of every woman and girl in Rhode Island…give us the right to choose,” said Representative Anastasia Williams, the bill’s sponsor.
Not long after, the bill was once again approved by House lawmakers in a vote of 35 to 29. It became law that same night when it was signed by Governor Gina Raimondo just before 9:30 p.m., five hours after debate started on the Senate floor.
“When this bill becomes law, women and their families across Rhode Island will be free from the fear that the reproductive health care they need today will be illegal tomorrow. We owe this certainty to every Rhode Island woman – and the bill before me today provides exactly that,” Raimondo said. “I want to thank the thousands of Rhode Islanders who have engaged in this important debate in recent months. This issue is a difficult and complex one, and there are good and principled people on both sides of the debate. Thank you to the General Assembly for your hard work and action.”
Rhode Island Abortion Rights Bill Coverage: