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‘This ruling is truly catastrophic’; R.I. advocates, politicians react to Roe v. Wade being overturned

“Make no mistake about it: today’s Supreme Court decision will not stop abortions,” Governor Dan McKee said.

Ashley Onorato of North Kingstown, Rhode Island holds up a sign in support of abortion access during a pro-choice rally on the lawn of the Rhode Island State House in Providence, Rhode Island on May 3, 2022.Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

PROVIDENCE — The U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade, ending 50 years of constitutional protection for abortion. The ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is expected to lead to bans on abortion in about half of the country, and many Rhode Island politicians and reproductive health advocates say Rhode Island should have done more to protect abortion access in the state.

Rhode Island passed the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019, protecting the right to an abortion in the state. When a draft of the Supreme Court decision was leaked in May, Rhode Island legislators vowed to protect abortion rights in the state.


“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 at the time. “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.”

“Abortion rights will not change in our state regardless of what the US Supreme Court decides,” read a joint statement shared by 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.”

Shekarchi told the Globe in a statement Friday that he was “disheartened by the extreme decision” by the US Supreme Court.

“We will continue the discussion in our next legislative session on a bill that would provide Medicaid funding for the procedure,” he said.


“In anticipation of a decision like today’s Supreme Court decision, the Senate acted in 2019 to codify Roe v. Wade into state law. As a result, no Rhode Islander is losing rights today,” Ruggerio said in a statement Friday.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Diocese of Providence expressed support for the ruling. He noted that the church offers programs that provides “personal and material assistance to pregnant women” and said he had “directed our diocesan staff to increase the support we can offer... and to be alert to other and new ways of providing assistance to women, children and families in the days to come.”

The Catholic Church has been “clear and consistent in teaching that abortion is a grave moral evil,” he said in a statement.

”I am very pleased that the Supreme Court has now effectively overturned Roe v. Wade that for decades has directed abortion legislation in this country,” he said. “The decision is proper for both moral and legal reasons.”

A protest is scheduled for 8 p.m. at the Rhode Island State House.

Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos said in a statement that the Supreme Court’s ruling was a “disgraceful setback for millions of Americans.”

“As a mother, the most basic thing I want for my son and daughter is for them to have opportunities to live happy, healthy, and independent lives,” Matos said. “I will now have to explain to my daughter that she may not grow up to have the same fundamental access to healthcare as my son.”


“Make no mistake about it: today’s Supreme Court decision will not stop abortions,” said Governor Dan McKee in a Twitter thread. “It will only make them less safe. It’s time for Congress to act and support a woman’s right to choose, just like Rhode Island has done.”

Providence mayoral candidate Gonzalo Cuervo said in a statement: “This unconscionable decision by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade will harm the bodily autonomy, health, and wellbeing of millions of Americans. It is a reckless action by an unaccountable body of judges. Expect more reckless decisions as they seek to tear down many more fundamental rights and protections.”

”There is much we can do, even at the city level, to ensure that the people of Providence continue to enjoy our fundamental freedoms,” he added. “We must ensure abortion providers are kept safe, secure and accessible to all. We must also review and codify into city ordinance any and all rights we currently only have due to Supreme Court precedent while supporting similar efforts in Congress and in the RI General Assembly.”

ACLU of R.I. executive director Steven Brown said that despite Roe v. Wade being codified into law in Rhode Island, is is “essential that our leaders go further” to make abortion accessible and affordable by passing the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, or EACA, which was reintroduced this session by Representative Liana Cassar and Senator Bridget Valverde.


“Some of our most fundamental rights are now in jeopardy as a result of this decision, and the ACLU of Rhode Island pledges to work with others in fighting back against this extraordinary judicial attack on our basic freedoms,” said Brown.

In his statement Ruggerio said that lawmakers will take up the EACA in its next session, since the 2022 session ended Thursday night.

“The EACA has financial implications and should be considered as part of the budget, but was not included in the proposal presented to the Legislature in January, or in the budget the House sent to the Senate last week,” he said. “We plan to address this issue in the 2023 session.”

Jocelyn Foye, director of The Womxn Project, who advocated for the 2019 Reproductive Privacy Act, said she is “done with the political games.”

“Let’s be clear that this ruling is truly catastrophic, but the work and the fight is not over,” she said. “It will never be over.”

Though the 2019 law protects abortion access in Rhode Island, it doesn’t make it much easier to terminate a pregnancy. Abortion is currently not covered by public health insurance in Rhode Island, so the 315,000 low-income residents who are on Medicaid have to pay for abortion care out of pocket. Abortions in Rhode Island could cost up to $5,000 or more. The Equality in Abortion Coverage Act would allow abortions to be covered by the state’s Medicaid program. McKee says he fully supports it, but the bill never passed the General Assembly — for the second year in a row — leaving residents on Medicaid without abortion care coverage.


People hold signs in support of abortion access during a pro-choice rally on the lawn of the Rhode Island State House in Providence, Rhode Island.Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

Attorney General Peter Neronha said in a statement, “Abortion is healthcare.”

“And today’s decision upending almost 50 years of precedent threatens essential healthcare access in states across the country where abortion is restricted under state law,” he said.

Providence Councilwoman and Mayoral Candidate Nirva LaFortune said, “Women, trans men, and non-binary folks are in danger. Make no mistake about it.”

“All of the issues facing our Nation are interconnected, woven together by a history of racism, misogyny, and disinvestment in marginalized communities,” she said. “Today’s decision will worsen health outcomes, it will worsen economic outcomes, and it will make our Nation less safe and less healthy.”

Here’s what other politicians and advocates in Rhode Island had to say about the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

This article has been updated with additional statements from Rhode Island lawmakers.

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.