Members representing supporting organizations of the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Justice (RICRJ) gathered in the State House Library to voice their support for the Reproductive Health Care Act (H5343, S274). The bill would protect safe and legal abortion in the state of Rhode Island, regardless of what happens under the Donald Trump administration or with the federal protections of Roe v Wade. The Coalition made the argument that it is critical to pass this legislation now—it cannot wait. With a hostile federal administration and uncertainty about the future of the US Supreme Court, Rhode Islanders need our public representatives to be proactive in protecting our reproductive freedom.
The organizations that were present and voiced their support for the Reproductive Health Care Act included: American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island (ACLU), League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, Rhode Island National Organization for Women (RI NOW), Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and Rhode Island Working Families.
Rebecca Kislak, President of RI NOW, urged legislators to call for a vote in the General Assembly this legislative session. Kislak pointed out, “most Rhode Islanders would be surprised to know our state receives an “F” rating from NARAL on our state-level reproductive rights policies.” This reality is in stark contrast to the simple fact that according to the Pew Research Center, Rhode Islanders support safe and legal abortion access in all or most circumstances, by a two-to-one margin.
Kislak also noted “economic and reproductive justice issues are intertwined” and as a result, she would be advocating for both the Reproductive Health Care Act and the Healthy and the Safe Families and Workplaces Act at the RI NOW lobby day on Wednesday, April 25 at 3 p.m. at the State House. She encouraged supporters of these policies to attend.
Steven Brown, from the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, said this is a timely issue. “Especially now that the principles of Roe v. Wade are at real risk of being lost, it is time for the legislature to take a strong stand in support of women’s rights, and to protect reproductive choice from judicial erosion by passing the Reproductive Health Care Act.”
Deborah DeBare, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, highlighted the bill’s importance, especially for victims and survivors of domestic violence.
“Restricting any access to reproductive health services and choices places particularly dangerous burdens on victims of domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence are at a significantly higher risk for unintended pregnancy because abusers will often sabotage or interfere with their partner’s birth control in an attempt to exercise control over their reproductive decisions,” said DeBare.
Jane Koster, president of the League of Woman Voters of Rhode Island said that “public policy in a pluralistic society must affirm the constitutional right of the privacy of the individual to make reproductive choices… For years Roe v Wade has assured the right to privacy for reproductive choices, but it is under threat at the national level and being threatened here in Rhode Island as well.”.
Anti-choice activists often over-simplify abortion access by casting people of faith and religious communities in opposition to reproductive rights. In a statement of support for the bill, Catholics for Choice proved this was far from the truth, “As Catholics, we respect the moral agency and human dignity of women, and a majority of Catholics agree that abortion can be a moral choice. Catholics trust women and believe they deserve respect for their personal, private healthcare decisions, including abortion. That is why the majority of Catholics—which make up more than half of Rhode Island’s population—support a women’s right to choose.”
Reverend Eugene Dyszlewski, Spokesperson for the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said, “Clergy were at the forefront of advocacy at the beginning of the family planning movement in the United States, just as religious leaders are today. The clergy experience of providing pastoral counsel to women and families reflects the spirituality inherent in medically informed personal reproductive choice. We recognize that no single religious leader speaks for all people of faith, and we protest the enshrinement of any one particular faith perspective as public policy.”
Dyszlewski concluded, “It remains our moral duty to support women’s access to safe and effective, evidence-based, reproductive care. The free and informed exercise of conscience is the moral high ground.”
Linda Finn, founder of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, said that the issue isn’t just reproductive health. “It’s also about women having a voice and being represented by their government and by their senators and representatives… we have a majority of Rhode Islanders and even a majority of Catholics who believe that abortion is a moral choice for women, and one that they alone should be making.”
“At Working Families Party we think about public policy issues primarily through a lens of economic justice and that is how we come to this issue here today,” said Georgia Hollister Isman. “If we are serious about the ability of families to determine their own economic future, to take care of themselves, to take care of their children – If we are serious about real equality for women, we must protect each and every woman’s ability to choose a safe and legal abortion.”
In addition to the RICRJ organizations present, seven other member and supporting organizations wrote statements of support. They include: American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Rhode Island Section (ACOG), Catholics for Choice, Humanists of Rhode Island, National Council of Jewish Women, Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island, Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, and Women’s Health and Education Fund of Rhode Island.
The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Justice exists to preserve, promote and protect all aspects of women’s reproductive health care and reproductive justice through advocacy and legislative action statewide and nationally. The Coalition’s goal is to illustrate to Rhode Islanders that many diverse organizations support the Reproductive Health Care Act and believe strongly in protecting and expanding reproductive freedom in the state.
RI NOW will be holding a lobby day tomorrow, Wednesday, April 26th to advocate for legislation on reproductive and economic justice issues. They will be meeting in the State House Library at 3pm and welcome anyone who is interested to join them.