Skirmishes Continue On Abortion-Rights Bill

Feb 21, 2017

Ajello and other abortion-rights supporters at the Statehouse earlier this month.
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

Seven state reps have dropped out as cosponsors of a bill that would create permanent abortion rights in the Ocean State. But supporters downplay the significance of this change.

The anti-abortion group Rhode Island Right to Life is waging a campaign to weaken legislative support for the abortion rights bill. So far, seven state Democratic lawmakers have decided to remove their names from the bill, House Finance Chairman Marvin Abney of Newport; and Reps. Helder Cunha of East Providence; Robert Jacquard of Cranston; Ray Johnston of Pawtucket; Charlene Lima of Cranston; Michael Morin of Woonsocket; and Dennis Canario of Portsmouth.

Providence Democratic state Rep. Edith Ajello, who claimed 36 cosponsors ahead of the introduction of the bill, said Rhode Island Right to Life's effort shows that abortion rights opponents are concerned.

I think it tells us more about the desperation of the so-called right to life people," Ajello said. "They are creating alternative facts to describe the bills, to mislead sponsors and mislead the public."

Rhode Island Right to Life head Barth Bracy rejects accusations that his group is using misleading information. He said the criticism is based on the wording of the bill to codify abortion rights, even if the Supreme Court reverses a federal right to an abortion.

"It’s broad to the point of absurdity and it would be laughable if there weren’t so many cosponsors," Bracy said. "So we really do encourage people to read the bill. You can see it with your own eyes."

Brady said he expects more cosponsors to drop out, although he declined to specify a number.

It remains unclear if the legislation will make it to the House floor this year. Ajello said she expects the bill may get a hearing some time in March.