PROVIDENCE — Just moments after signing his $13.6 billion state budget, Governor Dan McKee Monday told reporters he plans to sign an executive order that would protect reproductive health care providers who provide abortion care services to out-of-state residents.
The order, he said, would be modeled after the one Governor Charlie Baker, a pro-choice Republican, signed last week after the US Supreme Court ended constitutional protections for abortion. Their ruling bans executive state agencies from assisting another state’s investigation into either a group or person for receiving or performing abortions. Baker’s order also addresses laws imposed in states that criminalize abortions or other services.
McKee did not answer questions related to when the order would be signed, but his spokeswoman Alana O’Hare said it would “hopefully” take place by the end of the week.
Baker’s order also protects Massachusetts abortion providers from losing their professional licenses or receiving other professional discipline based on out-of-state charges.
The news comes as abortion advocates have repeatedly called on state lawmakers to pass the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, or EACA, which would allow Medicaid funds to cover abortion services. The EACA never made it into the state budget, nor did lawmakers vote on the issue, which Representative Liana Cassar and Senator Bridget Valverde had reintroduced in both chambers for the second year in a row.
“The budget is signed and in spite of months (years really) of public outcry, it includes bans on abortions. Governor McKee, do better,” tweeted The Womxn Project, a coalition of abortion rights advocates, after McKee signed his fiscal year 2023 budget. “You don’t get to say you support the right to abortion and then blithely sign away health coverage or state employees and people who use Medicaid.”
On Monday, McKee said he supported the EACA. He told reporters he sent the General Assembly letters asking them to pass it.
A bill was proposed by US Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, that would exclude some employers from receiving tax breaks if they provide abortion access or support to their employees. Jocelyn Foye, the executive director of The Womxn Project, said the organization is demanding McKee also sign an executive order that would ensure corporations in Rhode Island would not be punished for “ensuring access to abortion care.”
On Sunday, while House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi arrived at the Rhode Island Democratic convention in Cranston, he met with abortion rights advocates who support the EACA. He told them he was having conversations with the governor’s office, House members, and the Senate to potentially reconvene in a special session to pass the EACA.
A two-thirds majority is needed in both chambers to ensure passage.
“The four members of my leadership team proudly supported the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019 to ensure that women of Rhode Island continue to be able to make the personal decision to access safe and legal abortion,” Shekarchi told the Globe. He also said his “door was always open to discuss this issue” with advocates.
Yet Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a pro-life Democrat from North Providence, told the Globe he does not foresee reconvening for a special session.
The EACA “is a monetary item that is not in the budget. We’ll take a look at that when we come back in January. But I have no intention to deal with that issue at this point in time,” Ruggerio said Monday. “But I just think there are other things that we’re dealing with at this point in time. We have an election that we have to get through. We didn’t intend to come back. I don’t see a reason to come back at this time.”
Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos has spoken at rallies, encouraging lawmakers to pass the measure. In a May op-ed in the Providence Journal, she wrote, “While I am excited that these proposals were included in the administration’s budget, another important measure I advocated for was not. Those measures were the reforms that are now included in a standalone bill: the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act.”
The EACA would create more equitable access to reproductive health care and allow state employees and Rhode Islanders who are enrolled in Medicaid to have reproductive health care, including abortion, covered by insurance,” Matos wrote.
If they reconvene for a special session and pass the EACA, McKee said, “If they do, I’ll sign the legislation.”