Swing senator backs revised abortion bill ahead of Tuesday vote


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The state senator who holds a pivotal swing vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Monday he is backing a newly released revised bill on abortion rights that is set for a vote Tuesday.

State Sen. Stephen Archambault indicated he will back the reworked Reproductive Privacy Act, ironed out in weeks of behind-the-scenes talks led by Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Erin Lynch Prata. The House passed its own version of the bill back in March.

Archambault, who describes himself as pro-choice, voted against the House-passed language last month, killing the bill in committee on a 5-4 tally. His change of position does not guarantee passage, however, since Democratic and Republican Senate leaders have the right to vote in the committee ex officio.

“I am pleased we have reached an agreement that accomplishes my goals of codifying Roe v. Wade and ensuring that safeguards are built in to limit late-term, post-viability abortions,” Archambault, D-Smithfield, said in a statement. “I am grateful to Chairwoman Lynch Prata for her principled leadership and ability to work towards common ground.”

The revised bill also has the “strong support” of the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, whose members include Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, the group said in a statement. Advocates of legal abortion have argued the issue carries new urgency because of President Trump’s new conservative appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

There was no immediate comment from the Rhode Island Catholic Conference, which has helped lead opposition to passage of a new law on abortion rights. Critics have argued there is no current need for state legislators to act on the issue.

Senate spokesperson Greg Pare said the revised Senate bill removes the expansion of who may consent to a minor’s abortion; keeps repeal of the so-called “quick child” statute but adds new language spelling out the attorney general’s power to prosecute fetal homicide; and requires a physician who performs a late-term abortion to “record in the patient’s medical records the basis for the physician’s medical judgment that termination was necessary to preserve the life or health of the patient.”

The new bill also allows the director of the R.I. Department of Health to discipline physicians for unprofessional conduct, including by denying or revoking their licenses.

The five House Democrats whose language on abortion was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month — Reps. Anastasia Williams, Chris Blazejewski, Karen Alzate, Jean Philippe Barros, and Evan Shanley — indicated they will support the new Senate language.

“If these are the changes needed for the bill to pass the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate, then we support the changes and urge senators to vote ‘yes’ and join our House colleagues in standing strong to protect women’s freedom, privacy, and reproductive health,” they said in a joint statement.

If the revised bill clears committee on Tuesday, it would still need to pass the full Senate. If senators approved it, the legislation would need to go back to the House for a new vote in the lower chamber before it could go to Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo’s desk for her signature. Raimondo supports the measure.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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