PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Two decades after winning office as a pro-life Democrat, Congressman Jim Langevin announced Thursday he will support legislation to codify abortion rights in federal law.
“Although I remain personally opposed to abortion, as a matter of public policy, my position has evolved,” Langevin wrote in an op-ed published in Thursday’s Providence Journal.
The 11-term lawmaker’s announcement came one week after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a strict new Texas abortion law to take effect, despite protests from liberal justices who said it conflicted with the landmark 1973 decision Roe vs. Wade.
“In light of this inaction by the Court — and as the conservative majority seems increasingly likely to take the extraordinary step of overturning Roe v. Wade — I have reconsidered my position on reproductive rights,” Langevin wrote.
Following the high court’s decision, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she will call a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that would enshrine the right to an abortion in federal law. Every member of Congress from Rhode Island and Massachusetts except Langevin has already co-sponsored the bill.
“Faced with the reality that Roe might no longer be the law of the land in a few months, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot support a reality where extremist state legislators can dictate women’s medical decisions,” Langevin wrote. “At the end of the day, we have to put our trust in women.”
Democrats have a razor-thin majority in the House, leaving Pelosi little margin for error to pass the abortion bill if Republicans unite against it.
As recently as 2016, Langevin said he continued to support the Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding of abortions, even after the Democratic National Committee added language to that year’s party platform supporting repeal of the amendment.
“No issue has confounded me more than abortion throughout my years of public service. Both as a practicing Catholic, and after coming so close to losing my own life at age 16, I’ve gained a unique appreciation for the sanctity of life,” Langevin wrote, referring to the firearm accident that left him a teenage quadriplegic.
“At the same time, I recognize that decisions about reproductive health are some of the most challenging and intimate choices women will make in their lives,” he wrote. “In every vote I have taken on this matter, I have wrestled with these deeply personal issues.”
Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin — who has tangled with many Rhode Island Democrats over abortion, including former Congressman Patrick Kennedy and former Gov. Gina Raimondo — issued a statement condemning Langevin’s change of heart.
“We are so tired of hearing Catholic politicians say, as Jim Langevin does, ‘Although I remain personally opposed to abortion…’ and then go on to support abortion,” Tobin said. “That pathetic excuse doesn’t fly anymore. Jim Langevin claims to be a ‘practicing Catholic,’ but practicing Catholics do not promote the legalization of abortion which the Church clearly teaches is an ‘abominable crime.'”
Tobin added: “Setting aside the partisan rhetoric, we are obliged to speak the truth: that every time an abortion takes place, a child dies. Sadly, that reality will now be on the heart and soul and conscience of Jim Langevin.”
But the Womxn Project, an advocacy group, was among the individuals and organizations who hailed Langevin for his new commitment to support legal abortion at the federal level.
“We are so thankful to Rep. Langevin for listening to the Rhode Islanders who have reached out to him over the years and the past few days to share their stories and to ask him to support the ability to make our own decisions based on our own beliefs with the support of the people we trust,” the group said in a statement issued by its director, Jocelyn Foye.
Langevin has said he plans to seek re-election to a 12th term in the House next year. Robert Lancia, a former Republican state representative, is running against him.
Ted Nesi (email@example.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