Senate committee rejects abortion bill

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PROVIDENCE — A bill that pro-life legal analysts said would have turned Rhode Island into an “abortion haven” failed to pass the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday night.

Hundreds of pro-life activists who gathered at the Statehouse erupted into cheers as news spread that the committee voted 5-4 against the Senate version of the bill that supporters claimed would have enshrined Roe v. Wade into state law.

“I’m so grateful to God. I’ve been praying for this outcome. I’m just so overjoyed,” said Dan Galipeau, a Providence resident and a parishioner of Holy Name of Jesus Church who added that he said three rosaries earlier in the day for the legislation’s defeat.

“I’m so happy. I thank God for this miracle. It’s awesome,” Maria Cornel, a resident of Johnston, said as she chanted and held pro-life signs in English and Spanish.

That the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Gayle Goldin, D-Providence, failed in committee makes it more than likely that the Rhode Island General Assembly will not pass a bill in the current legislative session to expand access to abortion.

“I think today's vote puts it to bed for this session,” said Barth Bracy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted after a little less than an hour of debate. Voting against the bill were Senators Stephen Archambault, Harold Metts, Jessica de la Cruz, Frank Lombardi and Leonidas Raptakis.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Cynthia Coyne and Senators Erin Lynch Prata, Dawn Euer and Mark McKenney voted in favor of the legislation.

In a prepared statement, Father Bernard Healey, the director of the Rhode Island Catholic Conference on Tuesday said: “We applaud the Senate Judiciary Committee for their courageous vote this evening in defense of human life and human dignity.”

The bill’s supporters, many of them wearing pink shirts and holding signs from Planned Parenthood, chanted “Shame” and “Vote Them Out.” They marched and demanded that Senate leaders still bring the bill to a floor vote before the entire Senate. There was also speculation that senators who support the bill will try to attach it to other legislation.

Though he believes those efforts will not be successful, Bracy said the state Right to Life Committee will not be complacent about subsequent parliamentary maneuvers to revitalize the Senate bill, a version of which already passed the state House of Representatives in March.

“This bill was a brazen attempt to use fear, uncertainty and doubt to push an extreme abortion agenda,” said Bracy, who added that the pro-life movement in Rhode Island also had to push back against a local media that frequently mischaracterized the bill to make it sound less extreme.

“Enough members of the Senate read the bill, read our legal analysis and understood that, and were not bullied by a lying media,” Bracy said.

A seven-page analysis on the legislation, written by attorney Paul Benjamin Linton, a lawyer who served as general counsel of Americans United for Life, said the bill would turn Rhode Island into “an abortion haven” where any unborn child could be killed up until the moment of birth, with the state given no recourse to restrict or regulate abortion facilities.

Supporters said the legislation would have only reinforced what the U.S. Supreme Court currently permits, but pro-life advocates warned that the bill’s language would have paved the way for late-term abortions, for virtually any reason, in Rhode Island.

Hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote, Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin tweeted that he was counting on the committee to reject “the radical pro-abortion bill” that the bishop said was “undeniable that it goes way beyond Roe v. Wade.”

“The vast majority in R.I. oppose late term abortions, the termination of viable children,” the bishop also tweeted.

Bracy said he received several phone calls from Rhode Island residents after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January signed the Reproductive Health Act, a law that pro-life and Catholic leaders warned was written in such a way as to allow babies to be aborted up until they are born.

“To a large degree, what happened in New York woke up a lot of the people in Rhode Island,” said Bracy, who added that the state Right to Life Committee “did our work” in making certain that lawmakers heard from their constituents about rejecting the abortion bill.

“To God be the glory,” said Gail Simmons, a Coventry resident who has been traveling to the Rhode Island Statehouse three times a week to distribute information about the legislation since the New York abortion law’s passage.

Simmons said she would arrive at the Statehouse at 9 a.m. and stay as late as 6 p.m., or “as late as God wanted me to be here.” She said many of the pro-life activists from across the state became like “one family.”

“This is God’s glory,” Simmons said. “This is God’s victory.”