SOUTH KINGSTOWN — With support for legislation that would guarantee legal abortions mounting, it’s beginning to look like all of The Womxn Project’s hard work may finally be brought to fruition.
“We’re optimistic,” Jordan Hevenor, a South Kingstown resident and co-director of The Womxn Project, said Monday about the fight to pass the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA) in Rhode Island. “We feel really good about the momentum and energy surrounding the legislation this year.”
Founded in South Kingstown just after the 2016 election, The Womxn Project strives to inspire social change by combining art and activism. And what began as a handful of concerned women in Wakefield has extended to every corner of the state, with its members advocating tirelessly for the codification of reproductive health care protections into state law.
With the future of the landmark Supreme Court ruling that led to legalized abortions nationwide uncertain, getting the RHCA passed has been the priority for The Womxn Project since its founding.
“If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, Rhode Island has no law to protect the right to abortion,” Hevenor said. “We’ve just been really concerned with that because we don’t want to go back to a time when people took matters into their own hands.”
Reintroduced at the Statehouse last week, the RHCA if passed would prohibit state interference in a woman’s decision to have an abortion.
And with 39 representatives and 17 senators as co-sponsors on the legislation, Hevenor said members of The Womxn Project are hopeful that the RHCA may finally be passed.
“The last election brought new votes in both the House and Senate,” Hevenor added.
Among those who have signed their names to the bill are representatives Kathleen Fogarty (Dist. 35, South Kingstown), Teresa Tanzi (Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Carol Hagan McEntee (Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett), and senators Susan Sosnowski (Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and Bridget Valverde (Dist. 35, East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Narragansett).
McEntee said Tuesday that she fears reverting to a time when it was illegal in Rhode Island to have an abortion.
“We cannot go back to those days when women were dying because of unsafe abortions,” McEntee said, explaining her reason for supporting the RHCA. “I believe that every woman has the right to choose what to do with her own body. That is a very personal decision and should be made by the woman and her physician.”
McEntee said it’s important to recognize that “pro-choice” isn’t synonymous with “pro-abortion.”
“It simply means that we defend the right of women to decide for themselves,” she continued.
And while the RHCA has more support in the General Assembly now than it ever has before, the governor has also said she’s committed to protecting legal abortion.
In her State of the State address, Gov. Gina Raimondo last week called for the codification of “women’s access to reproductive health care here in Rhode Island.”
“If we fail to protect health care,” Raimondo said, “our economic recovery will be on life support.”
Hevenor said she hopes the governor’s comments on the protection of reproductive health care will “set the tone for the session.”
“I think what a lot of people heard on the campaign trail was that this was really important,” Hevenor continued. “Her mentioning that in her State of the State is a reflection of that energy.”
But while the legislation has gained traction, the road up to this point hasn’t been a smooth one. Getting leaders in the General Assembly to recognize the threat to the protections promised by Roe v. Wade has been difficult, Hevenor said.
Still, the RHCA seems to have strong public support.
The Womxn Project’s quilt petition, made up of squares representing the signatures of Rhode Islanders who support the RHCA, has so far gathered some 2,000 signatures.
And it’s still growing.
“It will never be done,” Hevenor said, adding that The Womxn Project also recently launched a social media campaign to show support for the legislation and to increase awareness of it.
Up and down its Facebook page, The Womxn Project has posted photos of supporters holding signs with messages like “the majority of Rhode Islanders want the [RHCA] to pass this year and I am one of them.”
A member of the House Judiciary Committee, McEntee added that a few late nights of hearing testimony regarding the RHCA have painted a similar picture of Rhode Islanders’ support for the legislation.
“I have personally witnessed the massive number of women who invade the Statehouse in support of the women’s right to choose,” she said.
In fact, 71 percent of Rhode Island voters support passing legislation protecting abortion, according to a 2018 poll by the Providence Journal, the Public’s Radio and NBC 6.
Jocelyn Foye, a South Kingstown resident and co-director of The Womxn Project, last week called it the responsibility of lawmakers to “protect everyone’s freedom to make decisions about pregnancy and parenting by ensuring abortion rights and access.”
“We are done waiting for our right to abortion to be taken away,” she continued. “More than 70 percent of voters want this and the women in our state need to know that when we need an abortion, we can get safe care.”
Yesterday was the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized abortion by striking down a Texas law banning the procedure.
“We know what happened before that decision, and how it impacted the lives of women,” Hevenor said. “We don’t want to go back to a time like that, and it just makes sense to us that we would take positive, proactive action to protect that right here in Rhode Island.”
And on the heels of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s swearing-in, McEntee said she worries a decision rolling back the protections of Roe v. Wade could be imminent.
“We are in jeopardy of losing our federal protections,” McEntee said. “It is the obligation of the Rhode Island General Assembly to secure the right to choose for all Rhode Islanders. We cannot go back.”