PROVIDENCE — Governor Dan McKee Tuesday signed an executive order that protects access to abortion care services in Rhode Island. The order, which he foreshadowed signing last week, ensures that individuals who come to Rhode Island seeking reproductive health care will be safeguarded from any potential legal liability in other states.
The order was modeled after the one Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a pro-choice Republican, signed recently after the US Supreme Court ended constitutional protections for abortion.
In addition to protecting patients, McKee’s order, similarly to Baker’s, will protect providers in Rhode Island who perform abortion care to individuals from another state. His order will ensure that these health care workers do not lose their professional licenses or become subject to discipline on out-of-state charges.
“Women should be trusted with their own health care decisions, and here in Rhode Island, we firmly support a right to choose,” said McKee, who called the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a 50-year precedent that allowed Americans to seek an abortion, “shameful.”
The order also prohibits any state agencies from assisting another state’s investigation into a person or entity for receiving or delivering reproductive health services. McKee wrote in his order that Rhode Island will not cooperate with extradition requests from other states that are pursuing criminal charges against individuals who received or performed reproductive health services that are legal in Rhode Island.
“As other states attack the fundamental right to choose, Rhode Island must do all it can to protect a person’s access to reproductive health care,” said Lt. Governor Sabina Matos.
On Friday, McKee joined President Biden and nine Democratic governors, including neighboring Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, to discuss state and federal efforts to defend reproductive rights.
These governors are “taking action to protect access to abortion care, including by: announcing funding for reproductive health care services; educating the public; supporting the codification of the right to access an abortion into state law and state constitutions; issuing executive actions to defend patients, including out-of-state patients, providers, and third parties; and even taking action together to support abortion access,” said a statement from the White House.
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.”
McKee previously told the Globe that he supported the EACA. Yet House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, who is in support of potentially reconvening in a special session to pass the EACA, and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a pro-life Democrat, would have to bring both chambers back to session.
“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.
Ruggerio said he has “no intention to deal” with the issue until January, when the General Assembly reconvenes.
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.