It was after Surprise IR spoke with the president of Rhode Island House Joseph Shekarchi on the failure of General assembly pass, or even submit to a vote, the Abortion Equality Act (EACA) that we have learned a lettersigned by 21 members of the House, “strongly” encouraging the President to pass the law “to protect access to abortion [and] ensure that all Rhode Islanders, especially people of color and low-income people, have real and meaningful access to abortion care.
As the United States Supreme Court moves ever closer to the repeal or substantial revision of the 1973 law Roe vs. Wade decision, there are still many people in Rhode Island who cannot access abortion care, despite the passage of the Reproductive Privacy Protection Act (RPA) two years ago. Currently, two categories of people are discriminated against: government employees, who might be surprised to find that their public health insurance does not cover abortion, and people who obtain their insurance through Medical help and related plans, which are not covered.
The Women’s Health and Education Fund (WHEF) said the average cost of an abortion in RI is $600. “There are a lot of people and families who just have nothing more to sit on if their insurance says they won’t cover their abortion,” writes the Womxn projecta Rhode Island organization that advocates for reproductive rights.
When Uprise RI spoke with President Shekarchi, he said, quoting the RPS, that “at this time, everyone in Rhode Island has access to abortion care.”
“Not if they can’t afford it,” Uprise RI replied.
As the Womxn project stated, “a right is not real if people cannot access it or afford it”.
President Shekarchi partly blamed failure to forward EACA to Governor Daniel McKee, saying the Governor had not included the position in his proposed budget. Chair Shekarchi also noted that there will be a budgetary cost associated with the implementation of the EACA that needs to be addressed. “Perhaps the next governor will include the position in his budget,” said Speaker Shekarchi, who added that even if the House passed the bill, the Senate would not.
What President Shekarchi did not mention during our conversation is the letter sent to him and the Majority Leader Christophe Blazejewskisigned by 21 members of the Democratic House Caucus, stating that “it is unacceptable that the General Assembly refuses to take action to protect reproductive rights and maintains a discriminatory policy at a time when the Supreme Court is supposed to deny reproductive rights to many people across the country.”
The letter, organized and signed by the Representative Liane Cassaris co-signed by the Representatives Edith Ajello, Karen Alzate, Susan Donovan, Jason Knight, Kathleen Fogarty, David Moraux, Justine Caldwell, Brandon Potter, Terri Denise Cortvriend, Joshua Giraldo, Rebecca Kislak, Mary Ann Shallcross Smith, Michelle McGaw, Therese Tanzi, Robert Craven, leonella felix, June Spokesperson, Joseph Batiste, Arthur Handy and Jean Lombardi.
Some of those signing the letter are part of the president’s leadership team, including Rep. Craven, who chairs the powerful House Judiciary Committee.
Uprise RI spoke to Majority Leader Blazejewski about the letter on the floor of the House during a recess on Wednesday. Rep. Blazejewski said he was unaware of any such letter. Uprise RI confirmed that the letter was properly delivered and Rep. Cassar collected signatures on the letter before and during the House session on Friday, June 17. The signatures were collected on the floor of the House and it was not done in secret.
Here is the text of the letter:
In light of the Supreme Court’s early ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, which is expected to overturn the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, it is imperative that state legislatures take every possible step to protect access to abortion. It is unacceptable that the General Assembly refuses to take action to protect reproductive rights and maintains a discriminatory policy at a time when the Supreme Court is expected to deny reproductive rights to many people across the country .
There are abortion bans in Rhode Island and it’s time to eliminate them. Our state effectively prohibits access to abortion for the 77,000 women of childbearing age covered by Medicaid and the 32,000 Rhode Islanders covered by state employee health insurance plans, because the plans, according to the law, do not cover abortion.
Rhode Island’s abortion bans codify discrimination in state-sponsored health insurance. Bans are bad health policy and bad economic policy. The bans impose a medical and economic burden on patients and their healthcare providers. The bans compromise the health of patients and push many people further into poverty while depriving them of bodily autonomy.
The Abortion Equality Coverage Act, currently being held for further study by the House Finance Committee, will eliminate Rhode Island’s abortion bans. It is time to put this bill to a vote, to correct this injustice and to eliminate the prohibitions.
The General Assembly did important work by passing the Reproductive Privacy Protection Act in 2019, codifying the protections provided by Roe v. Wade. The intent of the Reproductive Privacy Act is not realized if all pregnant women do not have access to abortion care when they need it.
We, the undersigned, urge you to move the Abortion Equality Coverage Act out of the House Finance Committee for a vote during this legislative session. This bill would make the right to abortion real for everyone in need across the state. By passing this bill, Rhode Island would join 16 other states, including four other New England states, in ensuring access to abortion.