A polarizing bill that sought to codify federal laws regarding the allowance of abortions, which was enshrined by the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, was voted down by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 5-4 vote on Tuesday evening, bringing an apparent, abrupt end to a frenzied year of debate and testimony from pro-choice and pro-life advocates.
It may not, however, actually be the end of the effort to get this version of the bill passed into Rhode Island law. While the Senate version was defeated prior to being able to get to the full Senate floor, the version which passed through the House of Representatives in early March was tabled for further review, opening the opportunity for it to be amended, attached to other legislation and passed through before the session ends in July.
“It is clear that there is not sufficient support to pass the bill as it stands out of committee,” Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said in an issued statement following the vote. “By holding the House version of the bill for further study today [Tuesday], there is opportunity for further action. I ask all parties to continue working together to see if amended language can be developed that will pass committee and be brought to the floor.”
Warwick Senator Michael McCaffrey, who is also the Senate’s Majority Leader, did not respond to an inquiry regarding whether or not such an effort would have support throughout the rest of the legislative body.
“Make no mistake, this is a movement, and it is a growing one,” said Senator Gayle Goldin (Providence), who sponsored the bill, in a statement. “We may have lost the vote on this Senate bill, but this will not end here.”
The swing vote on the committee turned out to be Stephen Archambault (Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston), who introduced his own version of the bill hoping to present it as an alternative just one day prior to the vote occurring. He claimed that his concern with the bill presented left open opportunities for abortions to occur well past the point of viability of the child, and that he couldn’t support a bill that exceeded the terms of Roe v. Wade.
“I'm not comfortable with the language in 152A,” Archambault said during the committee hearing. “And I want to be real clear, I'm committed to supporting a woman's right to choose and codifying Roe v. Wade. Before you're so quick to criticize me and the language that you see in the present bill, take a look at my bill, and you tell me what you think.”
His position drew criticism from pro-choice advocates.
“It is clear that he is falling for the gross misinformation campaign that opponents have been spreading for months,” reads a portion of a statement released by the R.I. Coalition for Reproductive Freedom.
But Archambault defended his position on Tuesday.
“I don't act rashly, I don't act on impetuous thoughts, I don't do things in a way that doesn’t take into consideration all the info I can before I make my decisions,” Archambault said. “I listen very carefully, and I've thought about this issue in great detail, and I've looked very deeply at the contrast between my bill and the sponsor's bill. I really wish that we had sat down at the table and been able to talk about compromises to the bill, but I'm not the sponsor.”
Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Erin Lynch-Prata (Warwick) voted in favor of passing the bill, arguing that in the many hours of testimony heard on the subject there was no sufficient evidence to justify the fears that many opponents of the bill had voiced regarding late-term abortions becoming more common.
“I want to say very clearly that the last thing I want to do is to have a woman go into her doctor's office at eight or nine months and say she wants to terminate her pregnancy for no real reason,” she said. “We had so many doctors come here and testify that that is just not the truth and that is not reality.”
She further argued that being pro-choice does not necessarily make somebody “pro-abortion,” but that she felt it important to protect existing rights for women – including herself – to be able to exercise that choice within the confines of the law.
“I, as a 43- almost 44-year-old woman, still have a grave concern that this could somehow affect me in life. There are a lot of people in this room that it will not affect. It could affect me,” she said. “I want to know what we're doing. I want to know what my rights are and what I would have access to. Does that mean that I would ever actually have an abortion? I don't probably think that I could. But I could never say never, and I don't think that it's my responsibility to make that decision for every other person who is of child bearing years.”
When asked prior to the 2018 election if she would support codifying Roe v. Wade, Prata-Lynch said that she would seek to do so, because “with what has been happening on the national level, I now have real concern that these rights could be under threat.”