State Senate committee revisits abortion in wake of Ireland vote

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PROVIDENCE — The state Senate Judiciary Committee held a two-hour hearing last Thursday on seven bills related to abortion, drawing testimony from both sides of the debate.

Six of the bills would restrict abortion. Three of them — S-2152, S-2142 and S-2137 — aim to institute “clear legal protections” for infants who either survive abortion or are alive after a pre-term birth, according to Barth Bracy, the executive director of Rhode Island Right to Life. Another bill, S-2791, closes what Bracy described as a “loophole” in the state’s parental consent law, ensuring that local minors seeking abortions cannot obtain them in other states without parental consent.

Two other bills, S-2585 and S-2709, would ban dismemberment and partial birth abortions in Rhode Island, respectively.

Bracy and other pro-life speakers backed the above six bills and opposed the seventh, S-2163, which would take the law in an opposite direction by enshrining Roe v. Wade and other federal case law into state law. Supporters said it merely protected the status quo in the event of future restrictions of abortion under President Trump. Bracy labeled it the “most extreme abortion bill” the state has seen.

One pro-life state senator briefly testified in favor of his bill. State Sen. Lou DiPalma, D-Middletown, noted that his proposed prohibition on dismemberment abortions followed the lead of nine other states, including West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma and Kentucky. DiPalma is also the co-sponsor of the partial birth abortion ban. The lead sponsor of that bill is Sen. Frank Lombardi, D-Cranston.

Unlike the previous hearing on a similar set of bills before the state House Judiciary Committee in April, most of those who turned out supported the bill legalizing abortion. The hearing coincided with Rhode Island Right to Life’s annual banquet. Early in the hearing, Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Erin Lynch Prata, D-Warwick, said she had not been aware of the event and had not intentionally scheduled the hearing to conflict with it.

Testimony in favor of her bill was fueled by fears that a Trump administration would roll back abortion rights. Many who spoke out pleaded with the committee to send the bill to the floor of the Senate for a vote.

Many supporters of abortion rights appealed to the example of Ireland, where voters recently repealed a constitutional amendment that outlawed abortion. State Sen. Gayle Goldin, a Providence Democrat who is the lead sponsor of the abortion bill, suggested that the ‘most Catholic state’ in the country should follow the lead of the ‘most Catholic country’ in the world.

But the vote in Ireland was not welcomed by everyone. One pro-life activist, Kara Young, wondered what the cheering in the streets said about “how far astray” society has gone. “You do not have to be religious to see how completely wrong abortion is,” Young said.

Young also described the pro-life cause as a human rights issue since the unborn infant in the womb is “another person” with their own body, DNA, and sometimes a different blood type as well. Besides the obvious harm to the unborn infant, Young said abortion hurts women as well. She said abortions can lead to an increased risk for breast cancer, pre-mature births after abortions and depression.

“We want to stop something that is not just unjust for the unborn child but it also harms women,” Young said.

Another resident who testified on the pro-life side, Joseph Franchina of Narragansett, estimated that abortions cost $300 million a year, suggesting that money was a factor in the drive to keep abortion legal. He also noted that an estimated 60 million unborn children have been aborted since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, amounting to 17 percent of the current population.

“We are literally, literally wiping out generations of children for the sake of convenience. It’s an abomination and it really needs to stop,” Franchina said.