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RI POLITICS

New ad focuses on abortion rights in R.I. governor’s race

Governor McKee’s new ad said rival Ashley Kalus would “take us backward.” Kalus has said she would not seek to overturn existing state abortion protections, but would not support the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act

Democratic Governor Daniel J. McKee, left, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus.Handout

PROVIDENCE — Following Democrats across the country, Governor Daniel J. McKee launched his first contrast TV advertisement in the general election Thursday, attacking rival Ashley Kalus for being pro-life.

The ad, which first aired early Thursday morning, said Kalus would “take us backward” if elected governor, with scenes of her repeating “I am pro-life” in a WPRI-TV interview.

Kalus, a Republican who named Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as the elected leader she admires most in a May forum, would “limit abortion access” and “oppose a woman’s right to choose,” the voiceover announcer said.

“Anti-choice Ashley Kalus is out-of-touch with Rhode Island’s values,” the advertisement’s voiceover added.

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Matthew Hanrahan, a campaign spokesman for Kalus, said McKee’s new ad is “baseless, unfactual, and filled with flat-out lies.” Hanrahan claimed that McKee was trying to paint Kalus as a “radical extremist.”

Roe v. Wade was overturned, ending 50 years of constitutional protection for abortion, but abortion rights have been codified in state law since 2019. Kalus has previously said she would not change that law if she was elected governor.

“I’ve been very clear: The right to an abortion was codified in state law, so nothing will change in my administration. And that’s the truth,” said Kalus on Sept. 13. “So I don’t know why they are running an ad that is misleading and false, because I’ve been very clear and on the record about that.”

Kalus’ campaign released a new video on Thursday morning in response to McKee’s ad.

“The vast majority of Rhode Islanders supported that law,” Kalus says in the video on Roe v. Wade being codified into state law, “which rejected extreme positions on both sides of this deeply personal issue. “Dan McKee knows this… so why is he lying?”

Kalus added, “It’s because he’s a desperate, career politician who’s afraid of losing.”

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On the national stage, abortion has become the centerpiece of TV ads for Democrats leading up to the midterms. In gubernatorial races across the United States, Democrats have taken aim at Republican nominees in the weeks after the primaries, highlighting pro-life candidates’ opposition to abortion rights without exceptions for rape or incest, calling them “dangerous” for their positions, or featuring women speaking about their fears of being investigated and “criminalized.”

In fact, Democrats have spent about $124 million this year in TV advertising that references abortion, according to an Associated Press analysis of data by Ad Impact, a nonpartisan research firm.

McKee’s ad also highlighted an executive order he signed in July that protects access to abortion care services in Rhode Island after Roe v. Wade was overturned. The order ensures that individuals who come to Rhode Island seeking reproductive health care will be safeguarded from any potential legal liability in other states — which was modeled after the one Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a pro-choice Republican, signed in late June.

But when McKee hinted to reporters on June 27 that he planned on signing this executive order, it was moments after he signed his $13.6 billion state budget behind the closed doors of the State Room at the Rhode Island State House. While he and local lawmakers stepped up to the podium to speak on the budget, a gaggle of abortion rights advocates wore pink, donned pins that said “bans off our bodies,” and shouted “Abortion is health care” on the other side of the State Room’s closed doors. Some whispered “remember the women” to those walking into the room.

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Despite public pressure, the budget did not include the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, or EACA, which would allow Medicaid funds to cover abortion services. Representative Liana Cassar and Senator Bridget Valverde had reintroduced the bill in both chambers for the second year in a row but lawmakers never voted on the issue. A two-thirds majority is needed in both chambers to ensure passage.

House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi said he supported the measure, but Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a pro-life Democrat from North Providence, told the Globe at the time that he did not foresee the General Assembly reconvening for a special session to pass the EACA.

When questioned by a Globe reporter at the time, McKee said if lawmakers reconvened for a special session and passed the EACA, he would sign the legislation. But McKee did not press them to return to the State House ahead of January 2023.

Kalus told the Globe earlier this month that she did not support the EACA. “Like a majority of Rhode Islanders, I don’t support late-term abortions or taxpayer-funded abortions,” she said.

This story has been updated with comments from the Kalus campaign.


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