State House leadership wants clear evidence of a political threat to reproductive health care rights before they’ll make any move to protect them said Senator James Seveney and Representative Kenneth Marshall at a meeting with constituents on Saturday in Bristol RI. Both lawmakers say they are pro-choice.
Seveney (Democrat, District 11, Bristol, Portsmouth, Tiverton) said he would vote for the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA) if it came to the Senate floor. Marshall (Democrat, District 68, Bristol Warren) was initially a co-signer on the House bill, but removed his name pending rewrites. The RHCA would codify the federal protections of Roe v Wade into Rhode Island state law, protecting a woman’s right to an abortion in the event that a Donald Trump nominated Supreme Court were to reverse the 1973 ruling.
“The reproductive rights thing, I don’t think that’s going anywhere,” said Seveney in response to a question from constituent Warren Wollschlager. (starting at 4:21 in the video below) “Right now that’s buried in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It did not come out. Whether it does or not, that’s going to be up to the chairman [sic] of that committee, and what the majority leader and senate president say.” Erin Lynch Prata (Democrat, District 31, Warwick, Cranston) is the committee chair, Michael McCaffrey (Democrat, District 29, Warwick) is the majority leader and Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence, North Providence) is the Senate President. McCaffrey and Ruggerio are both endorsed by Rhode Island Right to Life.
It’s the “same scenario on the house side,” said Marshall, “It didn’t come out from the chair of the committee. I can say, from what I see and feel from the House side of the equation is that everybody feels that certainly a woman has the right to their decision over what they do with their body. A doctor should not be held accountable for making a split second decision that would allow you to protect one life or another.
“But what I’m hearing is that, while we recognize that the Trump Administration is putting some serious concerns throughout the country in regards to what he intends on doing, the law, Roe v Wade, is still the law in this country, and they [House leadership] don’t anticipate the Supreme Court ever getting to take this up again, at least not in this current year or the upcoming year. Until such a time [that House leadership] feels as though the law as currently exists in the state of Rhode Island [is under threat] there really isn’t that real sense of urgency to codify [Roe v Wade at the state level.]”
Marshall is part of the House leadership team, serving as Senior Deputy Majority Leader. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) is endorsed by Rhode Island Right to Life.
“So until there’s some change in Federal status that bill won’t see the light of day?” asked Wollschlager.
“Yep,” said Marshall. “Some federal shape or form… I don’t see… and I might be mistaken… I think that… and if it does happen you will see people take a very difficult vote that they wouldn’t necessarily would have taken. But they’ll take it on the side of women’s rights.”
“Suppose you’re on recess?” asked Sharon Wollschlager, attending the constituent meeting with her husband, “Suppose you’re on recess and something like that happens?”
“Good question,” said Marshall.
“Where’s our safe guard?” asked Sharon Wollschlager.
“Good question,” repeated Marshall, “Yeah, you’re right. I think that’s a situation where you may see an emergency session being put forth. We have the opportunity to call a session at any time and if something of that… I think it wouldn’t happen in a recess period because we would know it’s already in Supreme Court hands and being heard and there would be a timeline while being heard, as well as a change in Supreme Court justices. So it’s a six-month window that we’d have that change. So yeah. That’s a serious question and a serious concern but I think there would be that timeline where we would be able to reconvene and take it up and codify it in Rhode Island if necessary.”
“I would like to see it come out of committee and at least go onto the floor,” said Seveney, “You know, I’m still learning the ropes. But I will say that I’m not really comfortable with the fact that someone can work hard on a piece of legislation, get it introduced, have it assigned to a committee, never to be heard of again. That’s part of the legislative leadership and management process, right?
“Now, reproductive rights did get a hearing and the room was full. I think the message… The national surveys on it are clear, certainly the sentiment in the hearing room was clear when these bills were heard.
“I would like to see [the bills] come out [of committee]. I have heard the same sentiments in the Democratic Caucus in the Senate that it’s a personal issue. ‘I don’t want to be forced to do something until external circumstances force me to do something, and then I will.’
“That’s a sort of promise to the future that may or may not end up becoming a reality,” continued Seveney. “I would be more comfortable if we could get it out on the floor. I couldn’t tell you today whether or not it would pass on the Senate floor because when it comes to [the issue of abortion] it gets personal. How an individual’s going to cast their vote, one way or another, as your own personal views, your religious views, the way you were brought up and what you believe in.”
“But you don’t represent yourself,” noted Sharon Wollschlager, “you represent your constituents.”
“No, no, you don’t [represent yourself]. But that doesn’t relieve you from doing what you think the right thing is regardless of what the public pressures may be. And that’s part of being a representative government. Yes, I want to represent your interests, but if I’m failing my own personal code in order to represent your interests, that’s a hard call.
“And I’ll tell you right now if it comes onto the Senate floor, I will vote for it. I believe in it. But you know, that’s one person out of 38.” Seveney gestured to Marshall, “One person out of 75.”
“But you know I have heard those very same sentiments voiced from Senators that if push came to shove, and there was an external threat, that the state would act,” said Seveney as Marshall nodded in agreement. “Because it’s very clear in the state of Rhode Island that the general consensus is that a woman does have the right to choose and you cannot impede that.
“And if it took legislation to ensure that… I will say that I think there’s some degree of confidence that you could take that we will do what I think would be the right thing. Not everybody would say it’s the right thing. It might be the political thing.
“But right now, your question was where is it, well, it’s buried. It did not come out of committee.”
Here’s the video. The first few minutes are a discussion of the earned paid sick leave bill. The discussion about the RHCA starts at 4m21s.