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Assembly leaders vow to defend R.I. law protecting abortion rights

Governor McKee joins a coalition of 17 governors calling for Congress to take immediate action to preserve access to abortion

The Rhode Island State House.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

PROVIDENCE — The state’s top legislative leaders on Tuesday said they will defend the state law designed to protect abortion rights in Rhode Island if the US Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

According to a draft opinion published Monday by Politico, the US Supreme Court has voted privately to strike down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, along with a supporting 1990s-era decision known as Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

That bombshell news has focused renewed interest on the Reproductive Privacy Act, which the House and Senate passed in 2019 to codify abortion rights in Rhode Island in case the high court reversed Roe v. Wade.


“I am proud that the General Assembly had the foresight to protect a women’s right to choose three years ago,” House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi said in a statement. “It is the law of the land in Rhode Island and will remain the law regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court does. I am prepared to protect the Reproductive Privacy Act if there are any attempts to overturn it.”

The support from Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, comes as no surprise since he has supported abortion rights in the past.

But the Senate’s top three leaders issued a statement, saying they, too, would defend the Reproductive Privacy Act, although they oppose abortion rights as individuals.

“The Reproductive Privacy Act is now law in Rhode Island, and abortion rights will not change in our state regardless of what the US Supreme Court decides,” said Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat, and Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, a Providence Democrat. “The Reproductive Privacy Act has been law in Rhode Island for three years now, and as leaders of the Senate, we will not entertain any effort to amend that statute.”


Assembly leaders had no comment on the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, which would let Medicaid recipients and state employees use their health insurance to cover the cost of abortions.

House spokesman Larry Berman said the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act will have a public hearing in the House Finance Committee and Shekarchi awaits the testimony. A Senate spokesman said the Senate has not had a hearing on the bill yet and Senate leaders had no comment at this time.

Governor Daniel J. McKee took to Twitter on Tuesday to express his support for the legislation.

“The Equality in Abortion Coverage Act is currently pending before the General Assembly — I’ve been in full support of this bill and the access to reproductive health care that it guarantees for so many,” he tweeted. “I urge the Assembly to send the bill to my desk and I will proudly sign it.”

Commenters on Twitter noted that McKee did not include the measure in his proposed budget.

McKee, a Democrat, also joined a coalition of 17 governors in calling for Congress to take immediate action to preserve access to abortion.

“Overturning Roe will turn back the clock on reproductive health, and Congress must immediately take action to ensure that our nation does not go backward and that the rights of all Americans to access reproductive healthcare and abortion continue to be protected,” the letter states.

Other Democratic governors signing the letter include California’s Gavin Newsom, Connecticut’s Ned Lamont, New York’s Kathy Hochul, and New Jersey’s Phil Murphy.


“I trust women to make their own health care decisions in consultation with their health care provider,” McKee said in a statement. “Here in Rhode Island, we stand firmly in defense of a woman’s right to choose. We are grateful to have Roe v. Wade codified in state law, but Congress must take action on the federal level to protect the rights of all Americans to access reproductive health care.”

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Follow him @FitzProv.