STATE HOUSE – Rep. Liana Cassar and Sen. Bridget Valverde today urgently called upon Gov. Dan McKee and House and Senate leaders to amend the pending state budget bill to provide abortion coverage to Medicaid enrollees and state employees, in light of the Supreme Court’s apparent readiness to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“While Rhode Island codified the legal protections of Roe v. Wade into state law with the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019, there remain two significant bans on abortion in Rhode Island law: state laws prohibiting abortion coverage in health insurance provided to state employees and through Medicaid programs,” said Representative Cassar. “Rhode Island isn’t protecting reproductive rights as long as it continues to wield state funding as a weapon to prevent people from getting the health care they need.”
Senator Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, Narragansett, South Kingstown) and Representative Cassar (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence) are the sponsors of the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act (2022-H 7442, 2022-S 2549), which would repeal the bans on coverage and ensure that Rhode Islanders have equal health care rights under the law. The bill has 36 sponsors in the House and 21 in the Senate.
Said Senator Valverde, “We knew this day was coming, which is why we fought so hard to pass the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019 to protect Rhode Islanders. If the Supreme Court does make this dangerous move and strips away protections that have saved lives for the last half century, it is up to the states to step in. Here in Rhode Island, the only appropriate response is for our leaders to stand up for our rights and get rid of our remaining restrictions on reproductive freedom. Our state’s population and leaders overwhelmingly support the right to abortion. It is unconscionable that we would continue to maintain intentional legal roadblocks that prevent people from accessing it.”
Roughly one-quarter of Rhode Islanders are covered by Medicaid, and another 30,000 are covered by state employee plans, which means a significant portion of Rhode Islanders do not have abortion coverage. Having to pay out of pocket for an abortion puts the procedure out of reach for many – particularly for low-income Medicaid enrollees. It can mean they don’t get the health care they need, that they forgo paying for other necessities such as rent, food or medicine, or that they turn to less expensive, extremely dangerous underground alternatives.
While Senator Valverde and Representative Cassar are calling for passage of their Equality in Abortion Act to strike down the abortion bans for Medicaid enrollees and state employees, language would have to be included in the state budget.
That coverage was not included in the governor’s budget proposal released in January. That budget currently is in the hands of the General Assembly, where the House and Senate finance committees have been holding hearings on it. A new draft is expected to emerge in the coming weeks, and Representative Cassar and Senator Valverde say it’s imperative that either Governor McKee submit a budget amendment to provide coverage, or lawmakers amend the budget to include it.
“We need the House and Senate finance committees, our leaders and the governor to work together to get this into the budget. Our nation appears poised to move a half-century backward in reproductive health care, so it’s up to us to fully protect Rhode Islanders’ safety,” said Senator Valverde
Said Representative Cassar, “It’s deeply disturbing to consider what will happen in the states where leaders have been waiting for this opportunity to eliminate access to safe abortion once again. While it’s a relief that Rhode Island is not one of those states, we’re leaving a huge segment of our population and their health care providers at risk as long as we maintain our abortion coverage bans. We must take a firm stand in favor of health care rights and provide equal access for all Rhode Islanders.”