Supporters Renew Effort To Strengthen Abortion Rights In RI

Feb 1, 2017

Rep. Ajello speaks during a Statehouse news conference.
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

Supporters launched a new effort Wednesday to strengthen abortion rights in Rhode Island, although it remains unclear if their favored bill will have enough support to clear the General Assembly.

A bill backed by progressive and women lawmakers would codify abortion rights in Rhode Island, even if the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is overturned.

During a Statehouse news conference, Providence state Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence) revealed that she had an illegal abortion at age 21 in 1965. While other women were not as fortunate, she said, the doctor who provided her abortion kept her health intact.

"It wasn’t a fatal abortion, it wasn’t a damaging abortion physically at all," Ajello said. "I was very lucky. In those years, many, many women died, many women were permanently injured by botched abortions performed by people who didn’t know what they were doing."  

A predominantly female crowd of more than 100 supporters crowded the Statehouse rotunda for a news conference, and marched to the offices of Governor Gina Raimondo, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed to underscore their backing for the bill.

Rhode Island Right to Life head Barth Bracy called the proposal to codify abortion rights -- which Ajello said was identical to a measure she introduced last year -- extreme. He quickly set to work in discussing the proposal with lawmakers.

Ajello's measure did not get a vote in the House last year.

While supporters said they were motivated in part by President Donald Trump and his vow to appoint more conservatives to the US Supreme Court, Bracy said it;s speculative to think the Supreme Court will eventually overturn Roe v. Wade. He said the measure raises a series of concerns.

In part, Bracy said, “This bill would prohibit the state or any of its agencies from restricting the method of abortion, so for example, partial-birth abortion would be legal in Rhode Island under this bill.”

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed were non-committal on whether they will support the measure backed by Ajello and Sen. Gayle Goldin (D-Providence).

Ajello said she thinks momentum is building for stronger abortion rights. She said her bill has 36 cosponsors and 70 percent of the women in the House. At the same time, many legislative Democrats are social conservatives who personally oppose abortion.