PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – President Trump’s coming selection of his second U.S. Supreme Court pick has led a growing number of Rhode Island leaders to say lawmakers should return to the State House and enshrine abortion rights in the state law in case Roe vs. Wade is overturned.
Gov. Gina Raimondo and lieutenant-governor candidate Aaron Regunberg, both Democrats, are among the highest-profile officials who’ve suggested reopening the legislative session to pass the bill, called the Reproductive Health Care Act. However, a spokesman for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello made clear that will not be happening.
Conservatives have long wanted the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Analysts have said Trump’s appointment of a conservative justice to replace Anthony Kennedy, who is retiring, could finally provide the necessary five votes, although that is not guaranteed.
Craig O’Connor of Planned Parenthood Southern New England said abortion will not automatically be outlawed in Rhode Island if Roe is overturned, but said it would “open up the possibility of court cases that could lead to a severe restriction or loss of the right to abortion.”
“We believe now is the time to act, before something happens,” O’Connor said.
The Reproductive Health Care Act was introduced in January by state Rep. Edith Ajello and Sen. Gayle Goldin, both Providence Democrats. They said the bill would repeal old abortion laws that are still on the books in Rhode Island ensure the practice remains legal in Rhode Island regardless of what happens at the federal level.
Barth Bracy, executive director of Rhode Island Right to Life, argued that nothing needs to be done by the General Assembly to maintain the current status of abortion in Rhode Island. He accused advocates of wanting to make the state “an abortion sanctuary.”
“While Rhode Island Right to Life eagerly looks forward to the day when Roe v Wade is overturned, so that legal protection can be restored for unborn children, we know the importance of remaining rooted in reality,” he wrote in an op-ed Saturday.
Bracy noted that multiple things need to happen before Roe could be overturned beyond confirmation of a Trump-appointed judge, including not only for a relevant case to make its way through the judicial system but also for all five justices to agree to take the step.
“Nothing would change in Rhode Island,” he wrote. “The legal status quo would remain as it has been for decades; abortion laws presently in force, and those not in force, would remain as they are, unless and until appropriate legal filings were duly made by a party with standing, overcome the inevitable legal challenges thereto, and decided by the courts.”
Right to Life endorsed both Mattiello, D-Cranston, and his Senate counterpart, Democratic Sen. Dominick Ruggerio, in 2016. A spokesman said Ruggerio was out of town and unable to comment.
O’Connor criticized legislative leaders for not passing the abortion bill this year.
“It’s frustrating to think that in a state that is overwhelmingly Democratic, in a state where people support the right to safe, legal abortion by a two-to-one margin, that the most powerful men in the General Assembly refuse to act on this issue,” he said.
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.