Letter: Help us fight for reproductive rights
To the editor:
These are tough times for reproductive justice.
With the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, the United States Supreme Court is potentially just one justice away from being in position to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 United States Supreme Court ruling that establishes the right to abortion at the federal level. President Trump has also signed legislation allowing states to withhold federal family planning funding from Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortion services, despite the fact that the funds would not be used for abortions. Federal funds can only be used for abortion in cases of rape or incest or in situations in which the pregnant woman’s life is endangered. The legislation Trump signed allows states to deprive low-income women of basic family planning services that they otherwise could not afford: services such as mammograms, pap smears, and affordable birth control. Up to 4 million Americans may now be denied access to family planning services.
Luckily, Governor Raimondo has announced that she will not take advantage of the recent defunding legislation. She has publicly asserted that she supports reproductive rights, including access to safe and legal abortion, and that she will act to protect abortion rights if the threat at the national level is urgent.
Well, it is urgent!
If Roe vs Wade is overturned, women will still receive abortions; the risk will just be dramatically higher. For those of us who lived in a ‘pre-Roe’ America, especially those of us who either had an abortion or knew someone who did, the prospect is terrifying.
Nonetheless, here in Rhode Island, right now, we have the opportunity to preserve the right to choose at the state level, if our state legislators pass the Reproductive Health Care Act of 2017 (the RHCA). If the RHCA becomes law, then regardless of what happens at the federal level, women in Rhode Island will still be able to receive abortions prior to fetal viability. This bill does not allow for late-term abortion. It does not prevent parental consent for minors seeking an abortion. It does not change Rhode Island Department of Health authority to oversee licensing of health care facilities and providers. What it does do is safeguard the fundamental idea that medical decisions are between a patient, her family, and her medical provider.
Our East Bay State Representatives Joy Hearn, Jason Knight, Susan Donovan, and Ken Marshall have all co-sponsored the House version of the RHCA, H 5343. Senator James Seveney is a co-sponsor of the Senate version, S 274. Both H 5343 and S 274 were introduced in January. We can’t thank these legislators enough for championing this legislation. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on March 29. It was a rousing success by most accounts. Since then we haven’t heard if or when the House Judiciary Committee will take a vote on the bill. It can’t be voted on by the full House until it is voted out of the Judiciary Committee.
Meanwhile, the Senate version of the RHCA, S 274, hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, despite a request by the sponsor. Senator Walter Felag and Senator Cindy Coyne have not publicly stated where they stand on the bill. Sen. Coyne sits on the Judiciary Committee. We must encourage her to push for a hearing!
We hear that the leadership of both chambers do not want to take on this bill because the issue is just too controversial. What’s so controversial about protecting the health and lives of women in Rhode Island, and promoting positive birth outcomes and healthy families?
And lest we forget that our legislators are supposed to represent us, a January 2017 Pew Research poll revealed that Rhode Islanders support maintaining safe and legal abortion by a 2 to 1 margin. Why should this be an issue?
Donald Trump has flip-flopped a lot in his young presidency, but he has not flip-flopped on reproductive rights: he is single-mindedly determined to erode them. Here in Rhode Island, we can stand up to him.
We ask you to contact your representative and senator and urge them both to support the Reproductive Health Care Act and to do everything they can to move it toward passage. If you are not sure who your legislators are, you can find out by going to vote.sos.ri.gov.
The current legislative session may come to an end as soon as the end of May. If this isn’t resolved this year, then we will have to wait another year and start all over again.
Andrea Arena, MD
Lisa Denny, MD
Lynn E. Taylor, MD