Last year’s Reproductive Freedom Lobby Day brought about two dozen young women to the Rhode Island State House. This year, easily ten times that number turned out for the Reproductive Freedom Advocacy Day. This year also saw the introduction of legislation in both the House and the Senate that would codify the protections of Roe v Wade into Rhode Island law.
Since the election of Donald Trump and his stated threat to women’s reproductive rights, women have mobilized to protect themselves. The Women’s March two Sunday’s ago was the beginning, but that was a reaction to the threat Trump represents. With the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, who helped pen a decision giving bosses the right to withhold reproductive health care from women employees, the threat has become real.
Craig O’Connor, director of public policy and government relations of Rhode Island Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, started the speaking program. “Our doors stay open,” said O’Connor. “The highest seats of government in our country have been taken over by some ideologues of oppression, people who are imposing ideas of white supremacy and patriarchy onto the people of our country…
“…and right at the center of it is an attack on reproductive rights.”
“We need to protect women in Rhode Island now,” said Representative Edie Ajello. Ajello told a highly personal story about getting pregnant at age 21 and getting an abortion in the days before Roe v Wade. Ajello was lucky enough to have received her abortion in Pennsylvania from Dr. Robert Douglas Spencer, who over his career performed as many as 40,000 abortions, in Pennsylvania coal country.
“Too many women in those years before Roe v Wade weren’t lucky enough to find a doctor like Dr. Spencer,” said Ajello, “Too many women died, we can’t go back there.”
State Senator Gayle Goldin said that the day after women around the world marched to push back against Trump’s “degradation of women,” Trump signed the global gag rule, which bans funding from non-governmental organizations that provide abortion education overseas. “He put the lives of thousands of people who don’t look like him, don’t have wealth like him or think like him immediately at risk.”
Grace Engleman is a 19-year old Brown University student and a Planned Parenthood activist. “The most fundamental human right is the ability to control what happens to one’s own body,” said Engleman, “Each body out there is a possession. Not the government’s possession, not Trump’s possession, not Congress’s either. It is only the possession of the one person it belongs to.
“We cannot be free if we do not own our bodies.”
For Rabbi Sarah Mack, “This is about religious freedom.
“In a state that was founded on religious freedom, it’s so important that the religious values of one group does not legislate the bodies of another.”
Note that the other side will not go quietly, and they are at the State House nearly every day it is in session: