R.I. House approves bill to protect abortion

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PROVIDENCE — Legislation that pro-life advocates warn will turn Rhode Island into “an abortion haven” is one step closer to becoming reality as the state House of Representatives approved the Reproductive Privacy Act on March 7. As of press time Tuesday, the Senate has not yet held a hearing on the bill.

The bill that supporters and sponsors claim will codify Roe v. Wade into state law passed the House on a 44-30 vote, and now heads to the state Senate for consideration.

In a prepared statement, Father Bernard Healey, in his capacity as director of the Rhode Island Catholic Conference, called the House vote “a grave disappointment.”

“Supporters of this measure have placed political expediency over the protection of the defenseless unborn,” said Father Healey, who added that the Rhode Island Catholic Conference “hopes that the result in the Senate will reflect a deeper respect for innocent life than we saw today.”

State Rep. Anastasia P. Williams, D-Providence sponsored the Reproductive Privacy Act, which was co-sponsored by Deputy Majority Whip Christopher R. Blazejewski, D-Providence; and state Reps. Karen Alzate, D-Pawtucket; Jean Philippe Barros, D-Pawtucket; and Evan P. Shanley, D-Warwick.

The legislation also had the support of the Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, which includes Planned Parenthood, the Women’s Fund, the ACLU and the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, among several other groups.

The vote came two days after the House Judiciary Committee voted 9-7 to move the legislation to a full vote on the House floor. On the same day, the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will also have to approve the legislation to have it voted on by the whole Senate, heard several hours of testimony from supporters and opponents.

Hundreds of pro-life activists, many of them wearing light blue T-shirts, turned out at the State House for the March 5 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Many of them testified while others held signs and chanted pro-life statements.

“I’m here to show support for life, to defend life from conception to natural death,” Jose Pimentel, a parishioner of St. Patrick’s Church in Providence, said as he held signs that said “Stop Abortion Now” and “Pro Vida,” Spanish for pro-life.

If signed into law, the Reproductive Privacy Act would prohibit the government from interfering in a woman’s decision to abort an unborn child before it is viable outside the womb. After viability, abortions would be allowed in cases to preserve the “life or health” of the mother.

While supporters say the legislation reinforces what the U.S. Supreme Court currently permits, pro-life advocates warn it will pave the way for late-term abortions, for virtually any reason, in Rhode Island.

A recent seven-page analysis on the legislation, written by attorney Paul Benjamin Linton, a lawyer who served as general counsel of Americans United for Life, said the law would turn Rhode Island into “an abortion haven” where any unborn child could be killed up until the moment of birth, with the state given no recourse to restrict or regulate abortion facilities.

The House legislation would also repeal Rhode Island’s “quick child law,” which allows someone to be criminally charged with manslaughter for assaulting a pregnant woman and causing “the willful killing of an unborn quick child.”

Similar bills are under consideration in Vermont and Illinois. In January, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act, a law that pro-life and Catholic leaders warn is written in such a way as to allow babies to be aborted up until they are born.