A Rhode Island late-term abortion bill appeared to be finished after legislators voted it down last month in committee, but it turns out the Reproductive Privacy Act wasn’t going anywhere.
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo signed the bill Wednesday night minutes after it won final approval following a dramatic week of political finagling, adding Rhode Island to the list of blue states expanding abortion access in the 2019 legislative session.
The Rhode Island bill’s road to passage was by far the strangest. The measure appeared to be dead after it was defeated in committee last month — four Democrats broke ranks to vote against it — but then reintroduced with some changes.
Last week, Democrats pulled H. 5125 moments before it was expected to be voted down in committee and transferred it to a friendlier committee, where it passed, in what was described by WPRI-TV in Providence as a “highly unusual move.”
The political machinations outraged the bill’s opponents, including the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee, which accused Democrats in a tweet of “bastardizing the process in pursuit of their desired outcome. Disgusting.”
Still, Ms. Raimondo said she was pleased to sign the measure, arguing that it was needed to preserve the state’s status quo from potential Supreme Court challenges to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
“It keeps the most personal and difficult decisions of a woman’s life between her and her doctor — where they are today, and where they belong,” Ms. Raimondo tweeted after signing the bill.
While red states have drawn the lion’s share of media attention for bills curbing abortion access, Rhode Island became the sixth state this year to remove restrictions, joining blue states Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New York and Vermont.
The Rhode Island bill allows abortion after fetal viability to “when necessary to preserve the health of life of that individual,” including mental health, and repeals the state’s partial-birth abortion ban, provisions that badly divided the Democratic caucus.
Twelve Senate Democrats joined the chamber’s five Republicans to oppose the legislation, which passed 21-17. In the House, 21 Democrats voted against the bill and one Republican voted in favor of the bill, which was approved on a 45-29-1 vote, according to LegiScan.
BREAKING: @GovRaimondo signs abortion-rights bill into law, minutes after it passed the House. https://t.co/w9dDlSsNyD
— Steph Machado (@StephMachado) June 20, 2019
House Deputy Majority Leader Arthur Corvese, a Democrat, called it a “version of the New York-style unfettered abortion law.”
“It’s not a strict codification of Roe versus Wade, but an expansion of abortion rights in advance of an anticipated and inevitable civilized compromise ruling by a future rational Supreme Court,” said Mr. Corvese during Wednesday’s floor debate.
Democrats revamped the bill to require doctors to record their reasons for post-viability abortions, and revoke the licenses of medical professionals guilty of “unprofessional conduct.” The measure also makes it a felony assault to cause the unwanted termination of a pregnancy.
The changes failed to sway most opponents.
“[T]his bill has absolutely not been substantively changed from the unfettered abortion bill we sent to the Senate,” said Mr. Corvese. “This is the same bill that allows the qualified termination of actual or potential innocent human life at any point during the nine-month gestation period right up until birth.”
Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the bill’s passage a “tremendous victory for Rhode Islanders.”
“These efforts by states to protect access to reproductive healthcare — including safe, legal abortion care — are vital to ensure all people have access to healthcare, no matter where they live or how much they make,” she tweeted.
The Rhode Island bill takes effect upon passage.
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