PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – It took a transfer to another committee, but the bill to codify abortion rights in Rhode Island has been sent to the Senate floor for a full debate and vote next week.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 8-2 in favor of the revised Reproductive Privacy Act on Thursday night. Republican Senate Minority Whip Elaine Morgan voted against the bill in an ex-officio capacity, but GOP Leader Dennis Algiere did not utilize that option.
Republican Sen. Thomas Paolino was the other “no” vote.
A spokesperson said the full Senate will consider the bill on Tuesday.
“Abortion is health care,” said Sen. Gayle Goldin, D-Providence, the lead sponsor of the original Senate bill and a member of the committee. “We absolutely believe that people who become pregnant may make those health care decisions for themselves.”
The bill ended up in the health committee after the chair of the original panel that considered the bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee, transferred the measure on Tuesday in order to avoid defeat.
Morgan and Algiere were standing by in the wings, apparently ready to vote “no” and kill the bill, when Chair Erin Lynch Prata announced she would transfer the bill. (Both Lynch Prata and Health and Human Services Chair Josh Miller had said last month they had “no intention” of transferring the bill.)
Morgan made a motion in the committee Thursday night to send the bill back to Judiciary, but no one seconded the motion. Speaking before the vote, she told the committee her mother had been advised to have an abortion while pregnant with Morgan.
“It’s abortion on demand, when demanded,” Morgan asserted.
Sen. Elizabeth Crowley, a Central Falls Democrat who describes herself as pro-life, disagreed. She said she voted “yes” on the bill because it is not an expansion of current law, and deserves a full debate and vote by the Senate.
“There is no expansion, there is no nine-month abortion,” Crowley said of the bill. “Which I would be totally against. I would say no right now.”
The Judiciary Committee had already defeated similar legislation, the Reproductive Health Care Act, in May in a vote of 4-5. But Sen. Stephen Archambault, the swing vote, switched sides to back the revised version of the Reproductive Privacy Act that would have been considered on Tuesday before the last-minute political maneuvering.
Morgan and Republican Sen. Jessica de la Cruz sent a letter to Senate President Dominick Ruggerio on Wednesday asking him to send the bill back to the Judiciary Committee, saying they believed rules were broken in transferring it.
Ruggerio — who is pro-life but has helped pave the way for the bill to make it to the Senate floor — replied in a four-word letter: “Your request is denied.”
Supporters say the bill’s aim is to update Rhode Island statutes to make clear that abortion is legal, up until fetal viability, and after fetal viability to preserve the life and health of the mother. The revised version of the bill that cleared the Health and Human Services Committee includes a requirement that doctors document the reason for any late-term abortion.
Explaining the revisions to the health committee, Lynch Prata said that “there seemed to be a concern that a woman could walk into her doctor’s office at eight or nine months and ask for a termination.”
“There is no doubt whatsoever that that does not happen in the state of Rhode Island,” she said. She said the revisions address those concerns.
Archambault also spoke to the committee before the vote, confirming he supports the compromise bill and urging them to vote for it.
“It took some effort to get it to the floor,” Goldin said after the vote. “I think also there has been a national movement that has been designed to provide misinformation about what abortion and reproductive rights actually mean. It is really hard to challenge that narrative.”
Pro-life and pro-choice advocates have filled the halls for every twist and turn of the debate, protesting for their causes and competing for the loudest chants.
Al Turner, a pro-life advocate who was standing in the State House rotunda on Thursday, said he was against the bill because he is a Christian.
“I can’t believe for the life of me that it’s come to this point that we have to vote whether a child lives or dies,” Turner said.
The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom issued a statement ahead of the vote urging the committee to send it to the floor.
“It has been more than a quarter century since the 1993 version of this bill passed out of the House of Representatives, but failed to be acted on in the Senate. Now, with abortion bans passing around the country intended to make a Supreme Court challenge on abortion rights — the Rhode Island Senate is poised to make history,” the statement said.
If the bill clears the Senate next week, it will have to go back to the House because of revisions made since it passed the House in March.