The Brown College Democrats and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Brown University welcomed State Senator Tiara Mack ’16 on Wednesday evening for a discussion on reproductive justice and abortion rights.
Mack and PPA Executive Committee Member Lindsay Lake ’22 addressed an audience of students and community members in Friedman Hall, outlining various opportunities to get involved with reproductive rights advocacy and bringing to their attention important pieces of abortion legislation that are up for consideration on a state and national level.
Among these pieces of legislation, they highlighted the Mississippi 15-week abortion ban being brought before the Supreme Court, as well as the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal Medicaid to cover most abortions.
Mack and Lake focused most of their remarks on the conditions surrounding abortion access and legality in the state of Rhode Island, arguing that although many perceive the state to be politically oriented to the left, many of the state laws and regulations surrounding abortion reflect more conservative stances on the issue.
Mack, who defeated the moderate Democratic incumbent Harold Metts in 2020 to represent Rhode Island’s District 6, brought up various targeted restrictions on abortion that exist within the state. A 2018 state law preserves protections for safe and legal abortions within Rhode Island even if Roe v. Wade — the landmark Supreme Court decision that made legal abortion access the law of the land — were to be overturned. But even within this protection, certain groups, including state employees, who make up 33% of the state population, would not have their health insurance cover abortions, she added.
Rhode Island does not currently cover abortion under its Medicaid program nor under state employee insurance. Mack cited other barriers, such the inaccessibility of abortion clinics via Rhode Island bus routes or laws mandating that patients be accompanied by someone to drive them home following a procedure.
Mack and Lake also brought listeners’ attention to the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, which would reverse discriminatory laws that keep state employees and people enrolled in Medicaid from having abortions covered by health insurance. The bill was introduced in the R.I. House in February 2020.
The speakers emphasized other ways to get involved with reproductive justice advocacy, including volunteering through Planned Parenthood and other organizations, phone-banking and supporting related issues like fair housing and transportation access.
Tania Gutierrez Espinosa ’24, a new member of the Brown Dems, attended the talk, which featured themes that hit close to home for her.
“I’m from Tennessee, so one of my biggest criticisms of the education system down there is the abstinence-only education they gave us,” she said. “Seeing the South struggle with giving access and even educating people from the start about safe sex has made me seek out different opportunities to be proactive and involved in the politics of all of it. Since I’m a DREAMER, I cannot vote,” she added, “so that’s why I seek out these opportunities to see how I can get involved in campaigns and door-knocking.”
Ellis Clark ’23, president of the Brown Dems, was excited to host Mack and collaborate with the University’s Planned Parenthood chapter, he said.
The topic of the talk is “so timely with the current assaults on women’s rights to make their own decisions right now,” he said. “We’re looking at the very real possibility of a post-Roe country, and I don’t think that any of us in Brown Dems want to live in that.”