By TESSA ROY In the midst of continuing controversy over the bill, Representatives Charlene Lima and Robert Jacquard discussed this week why they decided to withdraw their names from the Reproductive Health Care Act that was introduced by Representative
In the midst of continuing controversy over the bill, Representatives Charlene Lima and Robert Jacquard discussed this week why they decided to withdraw their names from the Reproductive Health Care Act that was introduced by Representative Edith Ajello earlier last month. The bill originally had 37 co-sponsors, but a Providence Journal report states that a total of eight legislators have pulled their names from the bill in the past weeks.
The Reproductive Health Care Act (H5343) was introduced by Ajello in response to concerns that the 44-year-old Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade could be overturned in the future. The bill’s text reads: “Neither the state, nor any of its agencies, or political subdivisions shall: Interfere with a woman's decision to prevent, commence, continue, or terminate a pregnancy provided the decision is made prior to fetal viability; Restrict the use of medically recognized methods of contraception or abortion; or restrict the manner in which medically recognized methods of contraception or abortion are provided.”
It goes on to define “fetal viability” as the "stage of gestation where the attending physician, taking into account the particular facts of the case, has determined that there is a reasonable likelihood of the fetus' sustained survival outside of the womb."
The bill was met with outcry from pro-life proponents in the state. Daniel Trafford, a publicist at the Legislative Press and Public Information Bureau, said many messages regarding the bill were put into church bulletins.
Indeed, much of the opposition was of religious nature. Rev. Bernard Healey, Director of the Rhode Island Catholic Conference, released a lengthy statement on February 2 expressing the Conference’s intense opposition.
“This proposed legislation is a radical attempt to remove all state regulation from the unethical and questionable practices of abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood and the Kermit Gosnells of the Ocean State. Removing this regulation by the state disregards the health and safety of thousands of women and children in Rhode Island,” the statement said in part. “The RI Catholic Conference stands opposed to the proposed legislation that radically changes RI State Law to allow for unregulated and unrestricted abortion on demand. This extremist legislation is a direct attack upon defenseless and innocent human life and allows the abortion industry to be left unregulated and unrestricted. Human life must be protected and respected in the law at every stage, most especially from the moment of conception.”
Lima said speaking to Father Healey was a factor in her decision to withdraw her name.
“I was concerned about the language of the bill – I thought it was just to keep things status quo, but after talking with Father Healey and some of those advocates, they pointed out the language. It seems to be overly broad and could include things such as partial birth abortion and fetal viability determined by the doctor,” she said. “It would cause for an abundance of questions.”
However, if the language of the bill was changed or it was made clear that the bill would “maintain the status quo,” then she could support it, she said.
Jacquard said that when he was asked to sign on, he was told the bill would codify Roe vs. Wade. After further research, he found he opposed the bill “as a matter of principle.”
“On this piece of legislation, I got an email from a constituent which alerted me to the fact that the bill might go further than codifying Roe v Wade,” he said. “I did some research and found out it codifies the standard of Planned Parenthood vs. Casey.”
He said he then informed the clerk of the House and the main sponsor of the bill that he would withdraw his name.
“When it comes to certain matters, sometimes the principles can come into play. In this case, that’s exactly what happened,” he said.
Jacquard said he doesn’t know if he would support the bill if its language is changed – he said isn’t sure if it’s necessary for it to be codified into Rhode Island law as Roe vs. Wade is already national law.
Other representatives faced direct criticism for cosponsoring the bill. An ad released in local papers by Rhode Island Right to Life specifically singled out Warwick/Cranston Representatives Joseph McNamara, Evan Shanley, and David Bennett. The ad claimed the bill “amounts to a virtually complete deregulation of the local abortion industry,” adding that it would “prohibit the state from banning any method of abortion,” “strike down informed consent requirements,” and potentially put abortion providers beyond the Department of Health’s regulatory oversight. The last claim was one similarly expressed by House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan in a statement she released to The Rhode Island Catholic.
McNamara, Shanley and Bennett refuted “misinformation” regarding the bill in a joint statement on released last Monday. In the statement, McNamara reported receiving emails and seeing materials (perhaps referring to the Right to Life ad) that suggest the bill would allow for “unregulated and unrestricted abortion on demand.”
“This is simply untrue. Rather, it would safeguard the concept that medical decisions are between a patient, her physician and her family. It also preserves the medical and legal concept of 'fetal viability'" he said.
Bennett said the same claims were “nonsense” as the bill states in its text that abortions could not be performed after the point of fetal viability.
"Roe vs. Wade has been the norm and the law for more than 40 years. It is a well-established precedent, and we want to ensure that it will continue being the law in Rhode Island, regardless of what happens in Washington,” he said.
Shanley said he appreciated hearing concerns from those alarmed by the “false information” surrounding the bill, but was unhappy with those he said “knowingly” put the information out in the first place. Assertions that the bill would radically alter Rhode Island’s existing state law are “untrue and irresponsible,” he said.
“It would not affect existing state law,” Shanley said. “It would not change the requirement of parental consent for minors, nor would it change anything related to the licensing of health care facilities."
The statement ends by saying McNamara, Shanley, and Bennett would be “happy to address the concerns of any constituents regarding the legislation,” and that they are open to changing language in the bill to prevent misinterpretation.
Trafford clarified, like Shanley had said, that the three are opposed to “misinformation” being spread about the bill, not concerns raised by residents.