A screenshot taken during a roll call vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee approving the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. The bill is scheduled for a vote before the full Senate Thursday.
PROVIDENCE — A bill expanding abortion access in Rhode Island passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 7-6 vote Tuesday afternoon without debate.
The approval of S32, also known as the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, came in a committee meeting that lasted slightly over two minutes. Introduced by Sen. Bridget Valverde, a North Kingstown Democrat, the bill would allow state Medicaid dollars to go toward abortion care and lift a prohibition on state employee-sponsored health insurance to cover pregnancy termination should it become law.
The approval came a day after the new Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, Richard G. Henning, issued a call to prayer in English and Spanish opposing the bill.
“Bills are moving forward in our state on the issue of taxpayer-funded abortion,” Henning said in his statement. “I invite the Catholics of Rhode Island and all people of good will to remember the foundational importance of the God-given right to life and our sacred duty to protect and nurture the young, the most vulnerable among us.
“Let us pray that our elected representative will seek to defend all human life, and to protect the conscience rights of Rhode Islanders who believe in the sanctity of each and every human person.”
Gretchen Raffa, the vice president of public policy, advocacy, and organizing for Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island, was in Hartford, Connecticut, when the vote happened.
“You missed all of my screaming from the Connecticut State House,” she said when contacted by Rhode Island Current. “For far too long, the discriminatory bans on abortion coverage have made abortions out of reach for far too many Rhode Islanders.
“We are confident that the Senate will vote in favor of the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act because we know that the voters in Rhode Island voted in favor of this policy because this is something that the people of Rhode Island believe in.”
The vote came one week after the committee first heard testimony on the bill. It is scheduled to go to the Senate floor Thursday.
The deciding votes in favor came from Senate President Dominick Ruggierio of North Providence and Senate Majority Leader Sen. William Pearson of Cumberland.
“I view this legislation as a simple insurance equity measure,” Ruggierio said in a statement after the vote. “The bottom line for me is that I want state employees and individuals on Medicaid to have access to the same health insurance benefits as all other Rhode Islanders.”
Two Democratic committee members widely seen to hold the deciding votes split, with Sen. David Tikoian of Smithfield voting against, and Sen. John Burke of West Warwick, voting in favor.
The remaining votes in favor, all Democrats, came from: Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Dawn Euer of Newport, Sen. Mark P. McKeney of Warwick, Sen. Ana Quezada of Providence, and Sen. Matthew L. LaMountain of Warwick.
The remaining no votes included: Sen. David Lombardi, a Cranston Democrat, Sen. Leonidas P. Raptakis, a Coventry Democrat, Sen. Anthony P. DeLuca, a Warwick Republican, Senate Minority Whip Sen. Gordon E. Rogers, a Foster Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Jessica de la Cruz, a North Smithfield Republican.
The House of Representatives approved its version of the bill in a 49 to 24 floor vote on April 27. Gov. Dan McKee has said he will sign the bill into law.
Raffa said the legislation’s success until now indicates general support from Rhode Islanders and validates the power of collective action.
“We are confident we will be celebrating the full vote in the Senate on Thursday,” she said.
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