PROVIDENCE — For nearly 10 hours at the Rhode Island State House last week, pro-life activists in Rhode Island testified against legislation that would expand legal abortion in the Ocean State.
Holding signs and wearing T-shirts with anti-abortion messages, hundreds of pro-lifers of all ages descended on the Statehouse on Jan. 29 to counter the presence of activists and lawmakers on the other side who argued in favor of a pair of bills that would guarantee abortion would remain legal in Rhode Island if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that declared abortion to be a constitutional right.
Those bills’ sponsors and supporters argue the legislation is needed to codify Roe v. Wade’s protections of legal abortion in state law, as well as repeal several decades-old Rhode Island laws that they say are “unconstitutional and unenforceable,” such as the state’s partial birth abortion ban.
The Reproductive Health Care Act, which would make clear that abortion is legal in Rhode Island
if Roe v. Wade is overturned, is being co-sponsored by 39 of the House’s 75 members. Another bill known as the Reproductive Privacy Act would also codify Roe v. Wade into law but is more limited than the RCHA and does not have as wide support.
Just before 3 a.m. on Jan. 30, Barth Bracy, executive director of the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee, was the last person to testify at the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the abortion bills. Bracy questioned the need for the legislation, reading recent news media reports where abortion leaders were quoted as saying that abortion would remain legal in Rhode Island if Roe v. Wade is struck down.
“The legal status quo would remain in place,” Bracy said. “If Roe v. Wade is overturned, nothing changes in Rhode Island, so we don’t need to be doing this now.”
Father Giacomo Capoverdi, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Westerly, testified earlier in the hearing about his own family history, sharing that his great-great grandmother in Italy had a crisis pregnancy, but gave her baby a chance at life. His paternal grandmother was later told that she would deliver a stillborn baby, but that baby — Father Capoverdi’s dad — was born very much alive.
“This was an indication of how precious human life is and how God has a plan,” said Father Capoverdi, who added that a woman had advised his own mother to consider an abortion when she was pregnant with him in the mid-1960s.
“If my mother took this woman’s advice, I wouldn’t be here and there wouldn’t be a vocation to the priesthood,” Father Capoverdi said.
Attorney Joseph Cavanaugh, president of the St. Thomas More Society of Rhode Island, warned that the RHCA has “imprecise language” that would effectively result in no restrictions against abortion in the state.
“Any type of abortion is allowed under this proposed law,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s scary to be sitting here in 2019 and be deciding about killing babies.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, submitted written testimony supporting the RHCA. Several other prominent state Democrats spoke out in support of the bill, including Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, who delivered his testimony with his 7-month-old son seated in his lap.
“Who are we to tell a woman that she has to take this on at a time when it might not be right for her?” asked Elorza, who warned that making abortion illegal would lead women to seek out the “harrowing practices of using coat hangers and other unsafe, unhealthy methods to terminate pregnancy.”
Elorza’s testimony, in which he said he was advocating for abortion “on behalf of my community here in Providence,” prompted Father James Ruggieri, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Providence, to write a letter to the mayor taking him to task.
“What an incredible and mixed message you sent to the people that day by advocating for late-term abortions that would kill babies just prior to birth while holding your son, who was celebrating his seventh-month of life outside of the womb on that very day,” said Father Ruggieri, who collected 1,300 signatures from parishioners at St. Patrick and St. Charles Churches in Providence to petition that Elorza clarify his testimony to say he did not speak for them.
Meanwhile, Dr. Tom Heyne and his wife, Dr. Nancy Heyne, both pro-life physicians, read excerpts from medical science textbooks that stated human life begins at fertilization, and that unborn babies in the early stages of development have their own blood type, a detectable heartbeat and can feel pain in the womb. The couple also showed ultrasounds of their own unborn baby growing in the womb.
“At what point did he start being human?” Dr. Nancy Heyen said. “Aren’t you glad you were born? Don’t they also deserve the right to life?”
HOW TO GET INVOLVED & STAY UP TO DATE:
For up to date information on how you can best stand up for life here in Rhode Island and learn more about local pro-life activities, programs and liturgies, consider joining the Human Life Guild. The Human Life Guild, established in the diocese by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, has an open membership with a steering committee and spiritual director appointed by Bishop Tobin. No dues or membership fees are collected. Please contact Carol Owens, Life & Family Coordinator, at 401-278-2518, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dioceseofprovidence.org/human-life-guild.
For those on the Human Life Guild, if your contact information has changed, please contact Carol Owens
so you can stay up-to-date.