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Congressman Langevin backs abortion rights bill, saying his stance on the issue has ‘evolved’

The Democratic congressman’s decision draws criticism from Roman Catholic Bishop Tobin and praise from Planned Parenthood of Southern New England

US Representative James R. LangevinHandout (custom credit)/Handout

PROVIDENCE — Democratic US Representative James R. Langevin on Thursday changed his stance on abortion rights and said he will back federal legislation that would enshrine a nationwide right to abortion.

“Although I remain personally opposed to abortion, as a matter of public policy, my position has evolved,” Langevin wrote in an opinion piece in The Providence Journal. “I will join as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act. And when I return to Washington, D.C., in two weeks, I will vote to codify the protections afforded by Roe into federal law.”

The Democrat was considered an opponent of abortion rights when he began representing Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District back in January 2001.


But he said he “reconsidered” his position after the US Supreme Court recently allowed Texas to ban abortions after six weeks. The high court voted 5-4 to deny an emergency appeal challenging the Texas law, which represents the most far-reaching restriction on abortion rights in the United States since the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion in 1973.

“I was shocked that the Supreme Court allowed it to take effect, in essence abandoning decades of settled case law,” Langevin wrote. “In light of this inaction by the court — and as the conservative majority seems increasingly likely to take the extraordinary step of overturning Roe v. Wade — I have reconsidered my position on reproductive rights.”

As a 16-year-old Warwick police cadet, Langevin was paralyzed when an officer’s gun accidentally discharged in a locker room. And in the opinion piece, he said that “as a practicing Catholic, and after coming so close to losing my own life at age 16, I’ve gained a unique appreciation for the sanctity of life.”

But at the same time, Langevin wrote, “I recognize that decisions about reproductive health are some of the most challenging and intimate choices women will make in their lives. In every vote I have taken on this matter, I have wrestled with these deeply personal issues.”


He said that Republican-controlled state legislatures have “embarked on a mission to out-extreme one another on the issue of abortion,” using a deeply personal issue to try to win elections.

“Today, it is clear that radicalism has overtaken nuance,” Langevin wrote. “Faced with the reality that Roe might no longer be the law of the land in a few months, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot support a reality where extremist state legislators can dictate women’s medical decisions. At the end of the day, we have to put our trust in women.”

The congressman’s support for abortion rights legislation drew immediate criticism from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.

“Although Congressman Langevin had previously attempted to nuance his pro-life position, his new statement on behalf of the Women’s Health Protection Act removes any doubt about where he stands and is terribly disappointing,” Tobin said in a written statement.

“We are so tired of hearing Catholic politicians say, as Jim Langevin does, ‘Although I remain personally opposed to abortion...’ and then go on to support abortion,” Tobin said. “That pathetic excuse doesn’t fly anymore. Jim Langevin claims to be a practicing Catholic, but practicing Catholics do not promote the legalization of abortion, which the Church clearly teaches is an ‘abominable crime.’ ”


Tobin’s statement concluded, saying that “every time an abortion takes place, a child dies. Sadly, that reality will now be on the heart and soul and conscience of Jim Langevin.”

Planned Parenthood of Southern New England issued a statement, saying it was glad Langevin is backing congressional action “to protect the right to safe, legal abortion across the country.”

“We need to work to eliminate bans on abortion everywhere,” the group said. “This includes Rhode Island — we must pass the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act to remove Rhode Island state law that prohibits one in three residents from using their insurance for abortion care.”

Planned Parenthood’s statement concluded, saying, “Now is the time that we need all our elected officials who champion abortion rights to speak out louder than ever, to ensure everyone can access the care they need.”

Meanwhile, the US Justice Department sued Texas on Thursday, saying the state’s new abortion law was enacted “in open defiance of the Constitution.” The lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare the law invalid, “to enjoin its enforcement, and to protect the rights that Texas has violated.”

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Follow him @FitzProv.