Rhode Island House approves bill to protect abortion

March 8, 2019

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Lawmakers in the Rhode Island House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday to enshrine abortion protections in state law.

The bill was approved 44 to 30 after about four hours of debate. It would codify the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing a nationwide right to abortion.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is now considering the legislation, which would pass to the full Senate for a final vote if the committee approves. The bill would then go to Gov. Gina Raimondo, who supports codifying Roe v. Wade, for final approval.

Lawmakers who supported it say they’re anticipating renewed federal fights over abortion, so Rhode Island should act now to guarantee reproductive rights.

Democratic Rep. Katherine Kazarian, of East Providence, said the bill protects constitutional rights and protects the ability of women to make personal decisions privately. She said state lawmakers have an obligation to acknowledge a woman’s right to choose, despite their own personal or religious beliefs. Democratic Rep. Daniel McKiernan, of Providence, said he respects what the Supreme Court has done and he respects women. Democratic Rep. Anastasia Williams, who sponsored the bill, thanked female lawmakers who advocated for abortion rights for decades, including Democratic Rep. Edith Ajello, of Providence.

“I stand here for all the women who feel and believe like I feel and believe,” said Williams, of Providence.

Lawmakers who opposed it say they fear it expands the definition of abortion. Democratic Rep. James McLaughlin, of Cumberland, said he strongly opposed the bill because “we must respect life.” Republican Rep. Michael Chippendale, the minority whip from Foster, said he was “emotionally and spiritually devastated.”

Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who is anti-abortion, voted no.

The bill has been revised to affirm that partial-birth abortions will remain banned in the state. The bill also includes language to prohibit late-term abortions, except when necessary for the life or health of the mother.

Several amendments to the bill were defeated during the debate, including one by Democratic Rep. Arthur Corvese, of North Providence, that would’ve required a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could get an abortion. Democratic Rep. Moira Walsh and others spoke passionately against it, saying that it would create an undue burden. Walsh, of Providence, said she didn’t know of a medical procedure that a man had to wait 24 hours for, including a vasectomy.

The Rhode Island Catholic Conference said it hopes the result in the Senate “will reflect a deeper respect for innocent life than we saw today.”

The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill, 9-7, on Tuesday.

The number of abortions in Rhode Island has been steadily decreasing over the past decade. There were 2000 abortions in the state in 2017, according to health department data.