By Rep. EDITH AJELLO and Sen. GAYLE GOLDIN
During the strange 2016 presidential election cycle, President Trump clearly displayed his attitude toward women. He bragged about his own sexually predatory behavior and objectification of women. Trump stated that women should be “punished” for having abortions and, repeatedly, vowed to nominate Supreme Court justices who will strike down Roe v. Wade and send the issue of the legality of abortion back to the states. While Trump made many empty promises on the campaign trail, this is one he is keeping.
Trump wasted no time in office re-instating the Mexico City Rule, or global gag order, which prohibits US funding from supporting non-governmental organizations around the world that provide essential health care services simply because they also provide abortions. Unlike his Republican predecessors, Trump went further, putting billions of dollars at risk for organizations that provide services to people with HIV/AIDS, malaria, and even care for children. He also nominated an opponent of reproductive freedom to the Supreme Court and several of his cabinet nominees have long histories of anti-abortion stances.
In recent years, Republican controlled state legislatures have passed law after law in an attempt to erode the protections established by Roe v. Wade in 1973. Those laws don’t only jeopardize women in those states, they also feed the pipeline of cases aimed at the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to nullify existing protections for reproductive privacy. With Republican, anti-women majorities in the US House and Senate, women’s autonomy over their own bodies is at risk.
Since 1973, abortion has been legal in Rhode Island because of the decision in Roe v. Wade. Yet, Rhode Island laws stating that life begins at conception and that it is a criminal act to end that life remain on the books even though those laws have been held unconstitutional.
That’s why, in early February, we introduced the Reproductive Health Care Act of 2017 (SB 274 and HB 5343), with more than 40 of our colleagues. This or similar legislation has been introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly regularly for decades. But, the election of an avowedly anti-choice president, strong Republican majorities in both chambers of the US Congress who are opposed to reproductive freedom/privacy, and an 8 member split Supreme Court, make this effort much more urgent.
Our bills will ensure abortion remains safe and legal in Rhode Island by codifying the central tenet of Roe v. Wade: that the State shall not interfere with a woman’s right to prevent, commence, continue or terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability.
Even though this bill is fundamentally necessary to ensure that the existing law established in Roe v. Wade remains intact in Rhode Island, our opponents have spread misinformation and labeled the bill “extreme.” Here are the facts: our legislation does not remove the state law requiring parental consent for minors. So called partial birth abortions are prohibited under federal law. The Rhode Island Department of Health would continue to have authority and responsibility for the licensing and regulating of health care providers and facilities, which is crucial to keeping abortion safe.
A woman’s medical decisions must remain between herself and her medical provider. That right to privacy about one’s own body is exactly what we seek to protect with our legislation. Our bill will ensure that the nearly half century old protections established by the US Supreme Court will remain the status quo in Rhode Island, no matter who might be in the White House, the Capitol Building, or on the Supreme Court.
Rep. Edith Ajello and Sen. Gayle Goldin represent Providence in the House of Representatives and Senate respectively.