House panel set to vote on abortion rights

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House Judiciary approves abortion rights bill

PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) — A group of House lawmakers are set to take a potentially historic vote on abortion rights Tuesday evening, though it’s still unclear whether a compromise version of a bill to guarantee the right to an abortion in Rhode Island will pass.

The amended version of the Reproductive Privacy Act, first introduced by Rep. Anastasia Williams, is set to be considered by the House Judiciary Committee. The bill, which was initially opposed by abortion-rights advocates who were supporting the alternate Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA), was tweaked to address concerns and now has the support of those advocates.

The legislation continues to allow for abortions up to fetal viability, or afterwards when the life or health of the mother is at risk. That part essentially mirrors the provisions of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision, which said states could not restrict abortion when it comes to preserving the life or health of the mother.

The bill is under consideration during a time when some fear the Supreme Court could overturn that historic Roe precedent, potentially leaving uncertainty about the right to an abortion in Rhode Island.

The compromise legislation repeals some old Rhode Island laws that pro-choice advocates said were medically outdated and unconstitutional, including the “quick child” law and Rhode Island’s previous partial-birth abortion ban. But it explicitly reaffirms a more recent law, the Federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.

“The termination of an individual’s pregnancy after fetal viability is expressly prohibited except when necessary, in the medical judgment of the physician, to preserve the life or health of that individual,” the bill says.

The Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, which backed the RHCA, now supports the compromise, writing in a statement that the bill “achieves the goal of protecting access to safe, legal abortion in Rhode Island no matter what happens at the federal level.”

The legislation is opposed by pro-life groups who worry the “health of the mother” allowance for late-term abortions could be interpreted too broadly.  

Barth Bracy, executive director of Rhode Island Right to Life, called the compromise “a political fig leaf made of cellophane.”

Asked Tuesday morning if the bill has the votes to pass committee, Judiciary Chairman Robert Craven said it’s “not definitive,” and he plans to continue to speak to his colleagues today.

The vote marks the first time Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who is pro-life, has allowed an abortion rights bill to move forward. Craven confirmed that Mattiello made the decision to put the bill on the calendar for a vote.

Bracy continues to urge Mattiello to reverse course. “It would be a very sad and despicable legacy for a self-professed pro-life Speaker to be responsible for creating the first-ever statutory right to abortion in Rhode Island state history,” he said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is simultaneously expected to hear testimony Tuesday evening on the Reproductive Health Care Act, which is expected to be amended to match the compromise language of the Reproductive Privacy Act.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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