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R.I. House votes to protect abortion rights

The House considered, passed a similar bill in 1993 under President Bill Clinton

The Rhode Island House of Representatives passed legislation to keep abortion legal in the state Thursday night.

State representatives voted 44-30 to pass the Reproductive Privacy Act, which would guarantee the right to an abortion up to fetal viability — a measure advocates say is necessary in the case that the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. The bill would also permit women to obtain an abortion past fetal viability if her life or health were at risk, The Herald previously reported.

Forty-three Democrats and one Republican voted yes on the bill, while 22 Democrats and eight Republicans voted no.

The vote followed over four hours of heated debate, in which opposing representatives introduced five amendments that failed. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, passed without amendments.

The first amendment, introduced by Rep. Arthur Corvese, D-North Providence, would have required a 24-hour waiting period for anyone trying to get an abortion. Rep. Mike Chippendale, D-Coventry, Foster and Glocester, likened the waiting period to a seven day wait period for purchasing firearms. But Williams responded, “I am not to be compared to a firearm.” The amendment failed 29-43. Other amendments included criminalizing fetal homicide and removing language pertaining to municipal insurance coverage, among other changes.

During the debate, representatives such as Rep. James McLaughlin, D-Cumberland and Central Falls, Rep. Jose Serodio, D-East Providence and Corvese, voiced opposition to the legislation.

Before the vote, McLaughlin grounded his opposition in his Christian faith, intoning “Thou shalt not kill.”

In contrast, Corvese said his disapproval for the bill, “has nothing to do with theology.”

Later on, Serodio said he felt “emotionally and spiritually devastated by what is about to happen.”

Still, reflecting on her approval for the bill, Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, D-Providence, said, “you can be pro-choice and Christian.”

Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, D-South Kingstown and Narragansett, who also voted for the legislation, said “pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion,” noting the complexity of the issue.

Approaching the vote, the Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Robert Craven, D-North Kingstown, said, “Democracy is a really hard thing to do. … We don’t legislate medical decisions. It’s not about you; it’s about women.”

Referencing the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, Rep. Daniel McKiernan, D-Providence, remarked that legalizing abortion was “done over 40 years ago,” and added that the House was simply “recognizing rights already given.”

Given the rise in political rhetoric against abortion rights, Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, said, “This is not in reaction to the current president.”

The House considered and passed a similar bill in 1993, under President Bill Clinton. The legislation then died in the State Senate.

The State Senate held a hearing on a matching bill Tuesday, which lasted until 6 a.m. Wednesday. By press time, Senate Democratic leaders had not yet released plans for a vote.


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