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Activists demand R.I. General Assembly reconvene to pass Equality in Abortion Coverage Act

At a rally at the R.I. State House on Friday night, Jennifer Rourke of the Womxn Project called on Governor McKee to refrain from signing the state budget until the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act is passed

At a State House rally Friday night, abortion activists projected their demands onto the State House itself, calling for Governor Daniel McKee to refrain from signing the just-passed $13.6 billion state budget until the General Assembly reconvenes in a special session to pass the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act.Alexa Gagosz

PROVIDENCE — Speakers before a large, responsive, mostly peaceful crowd voiced anger and resolve at a rally at the Rhode Island State House Friday night, on the day the U.S. Supreme Court ended 50 years of constitutional protection for abortion, overturning Roe v. Wade in a 5-to-4 decision.

Organized and hosted by the Womxn Project HQ, the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, and their partners, the gathering at the State House filled the plaza and lasted well past sunset. Approximately 500-600 people attended the rally, according to the Rhode Island State Police.

Jennifer Rourke, a Womxn Project board member, said she is furious at the high court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. She said she is concerned for her son, who is gay, and his hope to be able to marry one day, and said she is also concerned about the potential impact of the court’s decision on her interracial marriage. She is Black, Puerto Rican and white, while her husband is Irish and German.

“We warned you about Roe, y’all are just starting to listen,” Rourke said. “We told y’all they are gonna come for Marriage Equality, they are gonna come for this. And the right for me to love my husband.”

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Rourke demanded the R.I. General Assembly reconvene in a special session to take up and pass the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, and called for Governor Daniel J. McKee to hold off signing the $13.6 billion budget the Assembly just passed until legislators return to the State House and pass the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act.

McKee has said he supported the EACA, which would have allowed Medicaid coverage of abortions in Rhode Island. And Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos advocated for it. But it wasn’t voted on during the General Assembly session that ended Thursday night. Nor did McKee include it in his budget.

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Rhode Island passed the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019, protecting the right to an abortion in the state. Many Rhode Island politicians and reproductive health advocates say Rhode Island should have done more to protect abortion access.

Some at the State House were wearing collars reminiscent of those worn by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion for women’s rights and reproductive rights. Others were wearing red and black in solidarity with abortion rights. Many expressed disappointment in the US Supreme Court ruling.

“If they can overturn Roe v. Wade, what else can they overturn? Rules about interracial marriage? About gay marriage?” asked Daria-Lyric Montaquila of Providence, wearing a red T-shirt that read “Act Today to Protect Tomorrow.”

“Anything is possible and that’s a little scary.”

The event was mostly peaceful, though a lone counter-protester drew police attention, and a man and a woman were later arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Here’s what it was like during the demonstration.

The State House Plaza is filled as the rally starts to get under way.

“This is not just about access to reproduction rights, they’re after all of us,” the Rev. Dr. Donnie Anderson said.

“SCOTUS do your best, but this is one old queer woman who is going nowhere!”

“We will never stop,” she said, encouraging the crowd in a call and response. “Are you fired up?! Are you ready to go?”

“Today, I am deeply troubled,” said Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, the director of the Economic Progress RI, “Rhode Island leaders…. Where is the urgency to respond?”

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Dr. Mark Ryan also mentioned that Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo cut Medicare funding twice while she was governor of Rhode Island. “We need a system that does not discriminate against people,” he said, adding that the General Assembly should have passed the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act this session.

Another speaker emphasized, “Abortion rights are human rights. Abortion rights are trans rights. Abortion rights are worker rights.”

The rally had been entirely peaceful until, about 90 minutes into the event, one counter protester shouted. Rhode Island state police asked him to leave.

At one point, there was a fight and Jennifer Rourke, a Womxn Project board member, was punched in the face.

Rourke did not appear to be injured but was upset.

It wasn’t clear how many people were involved in the incident, Rhode Island State Police Lieutenant Peter Filuminia told the Globe late Friday night, however two counter protesters were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, one male and one female. They will be held overnight and arraigned Saturday. A Rhode Island state police K-9 unit assisted, Filuminia said.

This article has been updated with additional reporting from the event.


maria caporizzo can be reached at maria.caporizzo@globe.com. Follow her @mariacap. Carlos Muñoz can be reached at carlos.munoz@globe.com. Follow him @ReadCarlos and on Instagram @Carlosbrknews. Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.