PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Helena Foulkes on Thursday joined activist calls for Gov. Dan McKee to amend his proposed budget to include taxpayer funding for abortions, as the issue moves higher on the political agenda.

McKee has already expressed support for the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, a bill pending in the General Assembly that would allow the state to cover abortions through the multibillion-dollar Medicaid program as well as the state employees’ health insurance plan.

“The governor has been in full support of this bill and the access to reproductive health care that it guarantees for so many,” McKee spokesperson Alana O’Hare said Thursday. “As the governor has said, the General Assembly should send the bill to his desk and he will immediately and proudly sign it.”

But advocates have urged McKee to go further, by sending the General Assembly what’s known as a “governor’s budget amendment” to incorporate the abortion funding into his $12 billion budget bill, which is currently pending before the General Assembly.

O’Hare didn’t directly answer a question about whether McKee was ready to go that far. He has previously been noncommittal on the idea.

“We’ll take a look at that,” McKee said when asked at a gubernatorial forum last week if he would submit a budget amendment. “But we’re encouraging the General Assembly to pass the legislation and then I would sign it.”

Foulkes — one of four Democrats challenging McKee in the Democratic primary for governor — threw her support behind the idea in a statement Thursday.

“While Governor McKee failed to lead in support of the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019, he can still do the right thing today,” she said. “Governor McKee: please amend your budget to eliminate the ban on abortion coverage that impacts nearly one in three Rhode Island women.”

The Reproductive Privacy Act is the 2019 state law that codified abortion rights in Rhode Island. McKee is pro-choice and supported the law’s passage at the time, after initially saying he wasn’t sure whether the measure was necessary.

All five Democratic candidates for governor — McKee, Foulkes, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, former Secretary of State Matt Brown, and community activist Luis Daniel Muñoz — support allowing the state to cover abortions for Medicaid enrollees and state workers.

House Republican Leader Blake Filippi offered a reason supporters may hesitate to adopt the policy as a budget amendment: two-thirds of the General Assembly must vote for the budget bill in order to adopt it, and he argued pro-life lawmakers would have the numbers to block passage.

At the same time, McKee is also facing criticism on abortion from the other side of the political spectrum, as more attention is focused on the topic due to the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.

The Providence Journal reported last week that a financial analysis by the McKee administration showed expanding abortion coverage would actually save the state roughly $5.4 million a year by eliminating the health care costs associated with pregnancies that would now be terminated.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence on Thursday urged Rhode Islanders to email the governor about the financial analysis. The diocese linked to a draft message from Rhode Island Right to Life headlined: “Dear Governor McKee: How much will the State save for each dead baby if your ‘modest proposal’ becomes law?”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook