Opinion/Brown and Mendes: To protect abortion access RI needs a whole new government

·3 min read

Matt Brown is a Democratic candidate for governor. Cynthia Mendes is a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.

Recently, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade – a result of the far-right’s decades-long campaign to stack the Supreme Court with conservatives and dismantle abortion access. Today we are grateful to the many brave activists and organizers who passed the Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA) in 2019, codifying Roe v. Wade in Rhode Island. Without their efforts, Rhode Islanders might be about to lose their access to an abortion.

But the far-right is not going to be satisfied with their victory at the Supreme Court – we have to be prepared for them to take this fight to the states. And we have reason to worry that Rhode Island will be an appealing target for the far-right to try to roll back abortion access. When the RPA was passed 3 years ago, it was over the opposition of many of our state’s conservative Democratic leaders. Thirty-three Democrats voted against codifying Roe v. Wade, and 24 of them are still in office.

These conservative Democrats have a tight grip over our state government. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, and Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, who are the three highest ranking members of the Rhode Island Senate, all voted against codifying Roe and have been repeatedly endorsed by the anti-abortion advocacy group Right to Life.

Senate President Ruggerio sponsored this year’s “Born Alive Infant Protection Act,” that would put doctors in jail for 10 years if they perform an abortion. Goodwin, just last year, used her position in the Senate to funnel thousands of public dollars to a “crisis pregnancy center,” an anti-abortion outfit established to disseminate misleading medical information about abortions. And on top of all that, six Senate Democrats sponsored a bill this year that would authorize the DMV to start selling license plates reading “Choose Life.” The money generated by this bill, which is modeled on similar laws that originated in deep red states, would be channeled to Care Net – another crisis pregnancy center.

Although Roe has been codified in Rhode Island, the anti-abortion views of the most powerful members of the General Assembly are still having concrete effects. There are over 330,000 Rhode Island residents who are currently prohibited from receiving abortion coverage – 315,000 Medicaid recipients and 17,000 state employees. As the legislative session came to an end, the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act (EACA) which would ensure that they all can access reproductive health-care coverage, remained stalled in both chambers.

In order to protect abortion access for Rhode Islanders we need a whole new government – one run by people who have a track record of fighting for reproductive rights, not opposing them. The good news is that this year we have a chance to elect that new government. All across the state people are rising up to run against the anti-choice Democrats who control our State House. Lenny Cioe, a pro-choice nurse, is challenging Senate President Ruggerio. And dozens of others are running all across the state to build a government that will fight to protect reproductive rights.

To protect reproductive rights, we need to make sure they win.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Opinion/Brown and Mendes: To protect abortion access RI needs a whole new government