Legislative bills would turn R.I. into an 'abortion haven'

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PROVIDENCE — A pair of pro-abortion bills pending in the Rhode Island General Assembly go far beyond codifying Roe v. Wade and would do away with all restrictions on the procedure, including the state’s ban on partial-birth abortion, according to a new legal analysis.

The seven-page analysis, commissioned by the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee, was written by attorney Paul Benjamin Linton, a lawyer who served as general counsel of Americans United for Life and specializes in pro-life legislative consulting.

“We wanted to make sure what we had was the best legal analysis available,” said Barth Bracy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee.

Linton’s analysis suggests that if either bill is signed into law, the legislation would turn Rhode Island into “an abortion haven” where virtually any unborn child could be killed up until the moment of birth, with the state given no recourse to restrict or regulate abortion facilities.

“These bills go way beyond Roe v. Wade. It’s ludicrous,” said Bracy, who noted that the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision, along with its 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, affirmed the right of state governments to regulate abortion while not totally outlawing the procedure.

“The big lie here is how the other side, including a very compliant media, has been leading the way describing the bills the way that the sponsors do, which is to say that they codify Roe V. Wade, but that’s an outrageous lie,” Bracy said.

The bills’ sponsors and supporters argue the legislation is needed to codify Roe v. Wade’s protections of legal abortion in state law, as well

as to repeal several decades-old Rhode Island laws that they say are “unconstitutional and unenforceable,” such as the state’s partial birth abortion ban.

The Reproductive Health Care Act, which would make clear that abortion is legal in Rhode Island if Roe v. Wade is overturned, is co-sponsored by at least 39 of the House’s 75 members. Another bill known as the Reproductive Privacy Act would also codify Roe v. Wade into law but is more limited than the RCHA and does not have as wide support.

During a 10-hour hearing at the Rhode Island State House on Jan. 29, Gov. Gina Raimondo submitted written testimony supporting the RHCA. Several other prominent state Democrats spoke out in support of the bill, including Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Bracy testified at the hearing, and later told the Rhode Island Catholic, that the bills are not only extreme but premature, based on the unfounded belief that the U.S. Supreme Court is on the verge of overthrowing its precedents on abortion. Bracy cited recent news media reports where abortion leaders were quoted as saying that abortion would remain legal in Rhode Island if Roe v. Wade is struck down.

“This has been a campaign of lies and deception on the other side,” Bracy said. “They've been lying through their teeth.”

Several bishops and Catholic leaders across the country have decried similar legislation that has been proposed in other states, including Virginia, New Jersey and New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act on Jan. 22. That law goes beyond codifying Roe v. Wade to allowing late-term abortions in some circumstances.

“There is nothing reproductive about this Act. It is an assault on the most vulnerable and healthiest in our state. As healthcare professionals who live and work in New York, we are appalled,” Dr. John O’Brien, New York State Director for the Catholic Medical Association, said in a prepared statement.

In his analysis for the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee, Linton said the Rhode Island bills would eliminate all constitutional restrictions on late-term abortions and different methods of abortion, as well as doing away with any legal penalties for experimenting on human fetuses.

The legislation, Linton further wrote, would undermine the authority of the Rhode Island State Department of Health from adopting restrictions on abortions, and would even require the state to pay for all abortions sought by pregnant women who are eligible for Medicaid.

“As a result, if either (bill) were enacted, abortions could be performed in Rhode Island throughout all nine months of pregnancy, regardless of the reason for which the abortion was sought,” Linton wrote. “That is a state of law (or absence of law) that exists almost nowhere in the United States and is certainly not required or compelled by the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence.”

Bracy questioned not only the bills’ impacts, but also the popular demand for such legislation. He noted several recent public opinion polls that show a majority of Americans — more than 85 percent — oppose abortion in the final three months of pregnancy.

“Most Americans are opposed to third trimester abortions,” Bracy said. “These bills are not about preserving the status quo on the abortion issue. If anything, the pro-abortion side is using fear and doubt to move the ball forward.”