RI Senate committee to vote on abortion rights Tuesday night

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Two months after it passed the House, a bill to protect reproductive rights in Rhode Island is slated to get a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, a key step ahead of a potential floor vote on the controversial legislation.

Votes on both the House-passed Reproductive Privacy Act and the Senate version of the Reproductive Health Care Act are slated for Tuesday night’s meeting of the committee, which is scheduled to take place after the Senate floor session.

No changes were made in committee from the version that passed the House, and the two bills have identical language despite their different names, a spokesperson said.

The bill would enshrine the right to an abortion into Rhode Island law, while also reaffirming the federal partial-birth abortion ban. Activists say the legislation is needed in case Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized abortion nationwide, is overturned by the conservative-leaning court.

As it became more evident this year that legislation to an abortion bill could become law, the campaigns ramped up at the State House. Nearly every legislative day, anti-abortion advocates hold signs, sing religious songs and make speeches in the State House rotunda about protecting the unborn.

On the pro-choice side, women dressed in red dystopian “Handmaid’s Tale” costumes with white bonnets have been haunting the hallways, committee rooms and Senate gallery as they silently attempt to pressure the upper chamber to pass the legislation.

It’s unclear if the bill will pass out of committee. Even if it has the support of the majority of the panel’s nine members, other Senate leaders including the majority and minority leaders and whips, along with the Senate president, can vote on any committee in an ex-officio capacity.

“Out of respect for everyone who has dedicated so much time to reaching out to their legislators, coming to the State House, and making their voices heard, I believe it is important that the committee call a vote on the legislation,” Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, D-North Providence, said in a statement. 

A spokesperson said Ruggerio was not currently planning to vote in committee.

“I am pro-life, but I made a determination not to impose my personal views on the members of the committee. I did not interfere with the committee review process or attempt to influence the outcome. Should the bill come to the floor, I will vote in opposition to it,” Ruggerio said. 

The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, a group that has been advocating for the bill, urged senators to pass the House version of the measure as is without changes, though some lawmakers have suggested they may offer amendments.

Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin quicky responded on Twitter, writing: “How terribly ironic that this is announced on Mothers Day weekend. Praying, praying, praying, that the Senate will do the right thing and protect the life of unborn children.”

On the House side, the Reproductive Privacy Act split the chamber’s Democrats and passed 44-30 in early March. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello voted against the bill, but allowed it to come to a floor vote because the majority of the representatives supported it.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has pledged to a sign a bill that protects abortion rights.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

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