To the Editor:
As a legislator, I have made a commitment to represent the citizens in my district – all of them. We face controversial and difficult decisions, which require discernment, deliberation, and discussion. The most important element in this process is listening. On the issue of abortion, I have listened and continue to listen, intently, to the multitude of views on this subject. While the issue is challenging, the process has given me a perspective I would like to share.
I want to see abortions reduced. They are not going to end. No bill being considered now in Rhode Island would accomplish that. Even if a law passed tomorrow, outlawing abortions, they would not stop…they would just become more dangerous. Over many years, it’s been established that, legal or not, abortions will take place.
So…how do we reduce them? In my view, the best way is to avoid and prevent unwanted pregnancies. We should provide better education and better access to birth control. And persuade people not to have abortions. In recent years, for various reasons, abortion rates have been greatly reduced. As a pragmatist, I see that as a positive.
When I ran for office, I stated that I am not personally in favor of abortion, but in serving in the civil arena, as a state Senator, I would support the protection of safe and legal abortion first established in Roe v. Wade. It’s been almost 50 years, and no consensus has formed around any alternative. So, essentially, that means upholding the status quo, in the face of a potentially contrary U.S. Supreme Court decision. I do not favor going beyond the status quo.
People do feel strongly that abortions should be regulated, though, and that’s what government does. Roe and other cases come into play in that process. Although the term codify is used, we can’t really “codify” Roe or the status quo very easily. Hence, much of the present debate. Essentially, codifying means upholding the core principles derived from Roe and the subsequent cases and statutory provisions (Doe v. Bolton, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Gonzalez, Danforth, Ashcroft, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, and even the Hyde Amendment) that have shaped the status quo.
I would not have voted for the original bill - S152. It went too far. For instance, it repealed the state’s partial birth abortion ban. While our statute had been ruled unconstitutional (a federal ban remains in effect), Rhode Island’s ban could have been easily fixed. Repealing it would not have maintained the status quo.
This re-worked bill, though - S152 Sub A - is in line with the essential Roe principles. The arguments I’ve heard most, to the contrary, include the following:
1. It expands abortion rights in Rhode Island.
No, it doesn’t. In the critical aspects, it tracks the Roe language (as modified by Casey) almost verbatim: prohibiting post-viability abortions except to preserve the “life or health” of the woman.
2. It eliminates restrictions on methods of abortion…pointing to partial birth abortions, in particular.
No, it doesn’t. Rhode Island’s present law on partial birth abortion was ruled unconstitutional long ago; this bill actually creates a specific state ban, referencing the federal ban upheld in Gonzalez.
3. It precludes the state from prosecuting a criminal for an assault that harms a fetus.
No, it doesn’t. Attorney General Neronha has confirmed that he has the tools needed to prosecute such cases.
4. It removes restrictions on public funding of abortions in RI.
No, it doesn’t. It does not change RI law as it applies to Medicaid & state employee’s health coverage. For municipal-funded plans, it’s in line with case law. The status quo for Rite Care remains - abortion is not a covered benefit. This bill only brings it in line with the federal Hyde Amendment that precludes funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or where the life of the pregnant individual is threatened.
5. It undermines RI’s ability to regulate abortion facilities.
No, it doesn’t. Section 23-4.13-2(c)(3), set forth in the bill, provides for regulation of those facilities.
6. It waters down parental consent laws.
No, it doesn’t. It does give more options - but parental consent isn’t required, now. With judicial bypass, minors currently can obtain abortions without parental consent. And, let’s recognize - some parents are hardly able to give good advice … often, a trusted grandparent or older sibling is wiser.
I don’t know if Roe will be overturned. But many of my constituents are concerned about the uncertainty and the possibility of that occurring.
Clearly, abortion is a difficult issue, especially for one who makes an effort to comply with his faith, be compassionate, and advocate for social justice. As an elected legislator, though, I am in a secular office. I work for a diverse population of women and men who have genuine, carefully considered, and differing views. I seek to represent all my constituents, as best I can.
I support best efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions. My view is that there are more ways to accomplish that than just getting the government to ban abortions.
It is my hope that when any woman becomes pregnant that we, as a community and a society, will help her and her child to survive and thrive. Personally, if a friend or family member sought my counsel, I would seek to persuade her to have the child. But I would not dictate to her, and the government shouldn’t dictate to her.
Moreover, it is imperative that concern and support for life extend beyond time spent in utero. I believe that pro-life means more than just pro-birth. Too often, the same people who are dead-set against abortion are dead-set against public funds being used to ensure that children have proper access to health care, food, shelter and education (including sex education and birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancies).
The pending measure is not a bill to expand or to end abortion in this state. Whether it passes or not, there will still be a legal right to abortion in RI. The challenge is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies through education and accessible birth control, and to support the woman throughout pregnancy and at birth and beyond.
I’d prefer to have some amendments, as I don’t see this bill as perfect. Then again, no bill is perfect. And while amendments could make for a better bill, I don’t agree that this is an expansion of the status quo. The bill ensures that women who have abortions can do so safely ... largely because it’s legal.
Some folks have suggested that we’ve taken the positions we have because it’s easier, politically. But the Senators considering this – on both sides of the issue – view it as being of great importance, and don’t take it lightly. The fact is, there’s no easy position on this issue. I know that no matter how I proceed, I’ll lose some votes, some supporters, some people in my church, and even some friends…regardless of what other work I do to improve our state. I understand that.
Sadly, some people demonize anyone on the other side of the issue. Too often, the loud voices at both ends of the spectrum drown out the folks in the middle, who are discussing issues reasonably and respectfully. And the people who have been leaving nasty messages and emails seem to have no peripheral vision. Viewing pregnancy from polar opposites, some can see only a woman, and not a baby; others see only a baby, and not a woman.
I will take no satisfaction in voting on this bill. If it passes and becomes law, I recognize that some will celebrate that ... but I will not be one of them. Despite some of the vile things I’ve heard or received, however, I won’t be intimidated. I will vote as I have stated I will vote, and as I believe I should vote.
We should work to reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions. We should provide and promote alternatives. We should improve access to education and to contraception. We should improve connections between those who would potentially abort and those who would potentially adopt.
I will support women and their families. And I will do what I can to improve the conditions into which children are born in Rhode Island. In that respect, we should strive to build a state where there is not abuse or indifference or suffering in a child’s future, but hope.
Senator, District 30,