Abortion rights protection bill passes committee, advances to Senate floor

Photo of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

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(PROVIDENCE) – The controversial bill that would codify abortion rights protections into Rhode Island state law advanced from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday night at a vote of 8 to 2, with Senate Minority Whip Elaine Morgan joining the committee to vote ex-officio against the legislation. The full Senate will vote on the bill next Tuesday.

The bill, now known as the “Reproductive Privacy Act of 2019,” (H-5125 Sub B) had been transferred out of the Judiciary Committee by that committee’s chair Senator Erin Lynch Prata, who used a little known Senate rule to transfer the legislation to Health and Human Services after it became clear that the bill would not pass due to Morgan and Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere joining the committee to vote against the bill which would defeat it in committee and prevent it from reaching the Senate floor.

Senator Morgan made several motions to return the bill to Judiciary, which were rejected by Chairman Joshua Miller, saying that the objections were part of a lawsuit and the committee was not the proper venue for them.

Senator Lynch Prata was present to explain the differences between the language of the original legislation and the one presented to the committee Thursday. She was joined by Senator Steven Archambault, who had opposed the bill in its original form and had a role in the modifications that were heard Thursday. “The goal of this bill is codify the current status quo – not to expand or restrict any of the rights that exist today,” said Senator Lynch Prata.

Senator Steven Archambault and Judiciary Chair Senator Erin Lynch Prata testify before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News.


Senator Archambault also spoke, saying that the bill protected a woman’s right to choose and codified the status quo.

Committee member Senator Donna Nesslebush cited President Donald Trump and the current makeup of the US Supreme Court as reasons for the need to codify abortion protections into state law. Senator Elizabeth Crowley stated that she is personally pro-life, but because of feedback received from her constituents, she would support the bill, and that the bill needed to reach the Senate floor. “There is no expansion, there is no 9 month abortion, which I would be totally against,” said Senator Crowley.

GOP Senator Thomas Paolino (Lincoln, North Providence, North Smithfield) said he would vote no because of feedback received by his constituents. Senator Morgan also spoke as to her reasons for opposing the bill, raising questions about definitions of ‘post-viability’ and ‘health’ in the bill.

Chairman Miller likened the legislation to the Mueller Report; “not many have actually read it,” he said, urging people who have issues with the bill should read the bill to understand what it actually says.

Bill sponsor Senator Gayle Goldin (D-Providence) thanked Senate President Ruggerio for allowing the bill to advance, despite his personal objections to abortion.

While the committee was in session, loud chanting from both sides of the issue could be heard chanting in the State House rotunda.