Rhode Island bill legalizes abortion care under Medicaid and state employee health plan

Sen. Bridget Valverde (D-North Kingstown), Senate sponsor of the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, said the EACA was unfinished business after a state-based abortion right became law in 2019.

“We protected Rhode Islanders from losing the right that has been stripped from millions of Americans across the country over the last year, following the Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court,” Valverde said. “[But] a right to a health care service is useless if we intentionally prevent people’s health insurance from covering it. The ban on abortion coverage in Medicaid and state plans has been an unfair and unjust barrier to the full range of reproductive healthcare, which includes abortion.”

The Senate passed the EACA on a 24-12 vote, with support from President Dominick Ruggerio.

The opposition came from the GOP minority in the Senate and a sprinkling of Democrats.

Senate GOP Leader Jessica de la Cruz of North Smithfield described the EACA as a breach of a consensus that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions, and she predicted legal challenges.

“I heard a lot of sad stories about women who weren’t able to procure abortions,” de la Cruz said during a recent legislative hearing. “But if they can’t afford it, I suggest perhaps asking Planned Parenthood instead of spending money on lobbying. They could give that money to women who need abortions and pay for them.”

The GOP leader was voted down when she tried to make an amendment that was ruled non-germane, leading her to accuse majority Democrats of quashing contrary views. “What happens here happens quite often when super-majorities are in place,” de la Cruz said. “It is a feeble and weak thing to do.”

The bill moved through the Senate, and the Senate and House each passed companion bills from the opposite chamber.

Ecstatic supporters piled into McKee’s office a short time later as the governor signed the legislation into law.

“It was an issue about equity,” McKee said, “the fact that making sure everyone had equal health on their insurance, and their coverage covers the issues that are important to all of us, and women’s issues in particular.”

House Majority Whip Katherine Kazarian (D-East Providence), the House sponsor of the EACA, thanked Speaker Joe Shekarchi for supporting the measure, as well as the activist organizations that pushed for it – and to thunderous applause, Rep. Edie Ajello (D-Providence), a longtime fighter for abortion rights.

“Today is about trusting women, ensuring that all women have equal access to the health care that they need,” Kazarian said.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org

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