Gov. Dan McKee signs the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act into law Thursday night. (Photo by Michael Salerno/Rhode Island Current)
PROVIDENCE — Gov. Dan McKee signed the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act into law Thursday after weeks of testimony and debate in the General Assembly.
The law lifts a 40-year old prohibition on using state Medicaid money and state employee health insurance to fund abortion care.
“I’m happy to be here to sign this legislation today,” McKee said before signing the bill in room adjacent to his office, surrounded by dozens of legislators and abortion rights advocates. “This issue was about equity and having equal health on their insurance.”
House and Senate sponsors, Majority Whip Rep. Katherine Kazarian, an East Providence Democrat, and Sen. Bridget Valverde, a North Kingstown Democrat, stood beside the governor during the signing ceremony.
“This ensures that all women have equal access to the healthcare that they need,” Kazarian said.
“It has been a long time coming for Rhode Island,” Valverde said. “It was helped along by so many people in this room and so many people outside this room. It is absolutely about health equity.”
Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos called the law a victory for reproductive health rights in Rhode Island.
“It is a great day for the women of Rhode Island to finally have the EACA signed into law,” Matos told Rhode Island Current. “This law is about equity and access to health care.”
Senate President Sen. Dominick Ruggierio, a North Providence Democrat, echoed the sentiments on equality.
“I view this legislation as a simple insurance equity measure,” he said in an emailed statement. “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.”
The signature came shortly after the Senate approved its version, S32, in a 24 to 12 vote. Four of the Senate’s five Republicans were opposed. The fifth Senate Republican, Sen. Elaine Morgan, of Hopkinton, was absent. The other eight no votes were cast by Democrats.
Though many of the bill’s opponents and supporters saw its approval as a foregone conclusion, Senate Republicans made their opposition known.
“All of you know where I stand on this bill,” Senate Minority Leader Sen. Jessica de la Cruz, of North Smithfield, said during debate, punctuating her comments with a heavy sigh. “For decades, the consensus has been that regardless of one’s views on the legality and appropriateness of abortion, taxpayers would not fund abortions.
“If women can’t afford it, I suggest they talk to Planned Parenthood to ask them to stop funding lobbying and fund their abortions,” de la Cruz continued. “Today’s vote is an egregious overstep by the state government. Those who vote ‘no,’ stand on the side of the taxpayer, religious freedom, and conscientious objectors.”
De la Cruz went on to say that opponents would continue to fight against the law.
“Know that the fight is not over,” she said. “There will be legal challenges and I certainly hope those are successful. I will rejoice on that day.”
Sen. Robert Britto, an East Providence Democrat, said he supported the bill despite his personal objections to abortion.
“I don’t like the fact that anyone would have an abortion,” he said. “However, it’s not my decision.”
Shortly after approving its version, the Senate approved the House’s bill, H5006, by a 24 to 12 vote.
The House approved its version of the law on April 27 in a 49 to 24 vote. It approved the Senate bill, transferred immediately after Senate approval, in a 44 to 18 vote.
Sen. David Tikoian, a Smithfield Democrat, widely viewed to hold a deciding vote when the bill went for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 9, voted in the negative. He said the law denied choice for taxpayers.
“I hear a lot about choice and equity today,” he said. “My question is where’s the choice for the taxpayer in this bill? Or the innocent, unborn child?”
Sen. Roger Picard, a Woonsocket Democrat, voted against the bill. He said he was voting with his conscience and constituents even though he thought the bill was going to pass anyway.
“The district I represent, for as long as I’ve represented it, has always taken a pro-life stance,” Picard said in an interview. “If I represented a district that went the other way, I don’t know how I’d deal with that.
Though he disagreed with the bill, Picard said the democratic process worked as it should.
“I will always stick to my core values,” he said.
Gretchen Raffa, vice president of public advocacy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island, said she wasn’t paying attention to opponents Thursday. She was too busy rejoicing.
“This victory was made by the years of advocacy from supporters across the state,” Raffa said, fighting back tears. “This victory would not be possible without them.”
Here in Rhode Island, we will always protect a woman’s right to choose and ensure equal access to these crucial health care services.
I’m proud to sign the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act into law and include related funding in my budget proposal. pic.twitter.com/wJvHG6p5Q0
— Governor Dan McKee (@GovDanMcKee) May 18, 2023
Today’s vote was an egregious overstep of state government. Those who voted ‘no’ stand for the taxpayer, religious freedom, & conscientious objectors. Despite the increasing hostility towards these values, I will continue to fight for what is right, good, & fair for the taxpayer. pic.twitter.com/gVQ1AU7n7V
— Senator Jessica de la Cruz (@JessicaforRI) May 18, 2023
After years of work by volunteers, health care professionals, and advocates, the passage of the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act has eliminated unjust restrictions on who can afford to access reproductive health care in Rhode Island! pic.twitter.com/JZU2BoJuk0
— Lt. Governor Sabina Matos (@LGSabinaMatos) May 18, 2023
The EACA is now law in the Ocean State! A historic moment that will shape our state for the better.
— Rhode Island General Treasurer James A. Diossa (@RITreasury) May 18, 2023
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