By Cole DeSantis, Rhode Island Catholic Correspondent
PROVIDENCE — On Monday, March 6, members of the House Judiciary Committee met to discuss two bills of particular interest to the pro-life community.
H-5006, popularly known as the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, first proposed on January 6, seeks to expand who can qualify for Medicaid, as well as to expand upon Medicaid coverage and insurance for state employees to include various forms of prenatal, postpartum and other maternity-related medical care, including abortion.
A nearly identical bill was proposed before the Rhode Island General Assembly in May of 2022, but was ultimately tabled for further study. Shortly before the end of the last legislative session, some legislators moved for the General Assembly to take a vote on this bill, but no action was taken.
The bill’s primary sponsor is Representative Katherine S. Kazarian of District 66 (Providence and Pawtucket).
Discussion and the delivering of testimony began at 2 p.m. in the chamber, which was filled to standing room only. A handful of interested onlookers, representing both the pro-life and pro-choice sides, were present in the halls leading up to the committee chamber, intently watching the screen broadcasting the testimonies. Another small group was also present in the lobby of the State House, watching from a television screen.
Over the course of the hearings, the bill was introduced by Rep. Kazarian, who framed the intention behind the bill within the context of economic justice and equity.
“The bill before you today, H-5006, is a simple bill that addresses a simple issue. This bill would fix the inequality in insurance coverage for abortion access in Rhode Island.”
The issue of economic justice was further connected to the issue of privacy rights. “All patients should be able to make their own medical decisions with their doctors in privacy.”
“By not passing this legislation, we are saying that people in Rhode Island have a right to reproductive care and privacy only if they can afford to pay for it,” Representative Kazarian went to say.
Some present called into question the validity of this set of moral and economic justifications. Among them was William McKenna, the former representative of District 18 (Cranston), who also delivered testimony against the bill.
“The whole notion that abortion is health care is something they keep repeating, but that’s an absurdity,” McKenna stated. “But they keep repeating the lie over and over again, and people buy it. But when you think of it, it’s just absurd. When you take a curette and slice a child’s head off, I don’t think that’s healthcare.”
Over the course of the hearings, McKenna delivered an impassioned testimony.
“Where is the moral outrage over this proposal, which is basically authorizing the state to pay for hitmen to kill babies in their mother’s womb,” McKenna said.
“Make no mistake,” McKenna continued. “If you
vote for this bill, you are personally contributing to the violent deaths of babies.”
Also present giving testimony was Lisa Cooley, the coordinator of the Diocesan Office of Life and Family Ministry. Cooley stated that the bill represents a violation of people’s right to freedom of conscience, noting that the bill seeks to cover abortion in all situations, including elective abortions, which most Rhode Islanders oppose. Cooley thus concluded that the sorts of medical procedures that this bill hopes to cover are “not medically necessary and go against most Rhode Islander’s conscience rights.”
“The Catholic Church firmly believes in the dignity of human life from conception to natural death,” Cooley went on to say, describing abortion as a call for women who get pregnant under less than desirable circumstances to give up all hope. This amounts to society “not giving them the respect and dignity they deserve.”
“This legislation treats economically disadvantaged pregnant mothers as an economic burden. Instead, we should be treating them with care and compassion, by providing them the necessities to sustain life,” Cooley went on to say. “Supporting life-affirming programs brings dignity, joy, hope and love of neighbor.”
During the hearings, the written testimony of Father Bernard Healy, the head of the Rhode Island Catholic Conference, was also read. Father Healy renounced the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortion, saying that the state should “instead direct the expenditure of these monies toward producing healthy birth outcomes for mothers and providing income security to decrease the perceived need for abortions.”
Father Healy described the bill as “a step in the wrong direction,” going on to quote from Pope St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, in which the pope, now a saint, noted that a society has an unstable moral foundation if it can simultaneously hold up such values as the dignity of every human while also supporting or tolerating those acts that undermine this same dignity.
The second bill discussed, H-5228, popularly known as the “Born Alive Protection Act,” was proposed on January 25. The bill’s primary sponsor is Rep. Ramon Perez (Providence, Johnston).
The bill states that “any physician, nurse or other licensed medical person who knowingly or intentionally fails to provide reasonable medical care and treatment to a child born alive” will be subject to legal ramifications, including a fine of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 5 years.
A child “born alive” can refer to a newborn child who shows any of the necessary vital signs after leaving the mother’s womb, regardless of the events that led up to this. This would include both naturally induced birth, c-section, and abortion. To kill a child born alive could be classified as manslaughter.
Barth Bracy, executive director of Rhode Island Right to Life said The Born Alive Infant Protection Act is not about abortion.
“Rather, it deals with the protection of infants born alive,” said. “The fact that House Leadership sees the issue as related to abortion does suggest at least an inchoate awareness of the reality that, in both cases, we are dealing with killing babies,” Bracy continued.
Bracy concluded by saying, “Our best hope for blocking taxpayer funding for abortion-on-demand in Rhode Island is to pray and fast for the repentance and conversion of the people presently in the Statehouse.”
David Mitchell, the president of the Little Flower Home, an organization that supports pregnant women, noted that the presentation of a pro-life bill represents a positive political change in the state, but that more is needed.
“I think it’s tremendous to see progress in our state. … The signs are there that God is moving, not only in our country with the overturn of Roe, but in our State, and people are really coming to realize what abortion is — it’s the taking of the life of an unborn child,” Mitchell said.
“It’s good to see that we have some pro-life legislation on the agenda today,” Mitchell continued, going on to note that, in spite of this progress, the fact that many more pro-choice bills are also on the agenda is a sign that the state of Rhode Island is not quite where it ought to be in terms of defending life.
“I think Rhode Island needs to catch up,” Mitchell said.
McKenna noted that the proposal of a pro-life bill is a sign of the state continuing to show signs of hope in spite of growing pro-choice voices, but is also a sign that pro-lifers must continue the work necessary to defend life.
“We still have people who are pro-life, and we still have pro-life legislators that are proposing these things. But I really think we need more pro-life people in the General assembly,” McKenna said. “If there are some young people that value life, I hope they run. And party doesn’t matter. It’s a matter of where they stand on this fundamental issue.”
McKenna’s words, knowingly or unknowingly, reflected the reality that there were some young people present who took a strong interest in the pro-life cause. One example was a young Catholic woman named Alejandra Mayorga.
Mayorga, age 25, is a parishioner at St. Patrick’s Parish in Providence. After hearing that the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act was going to be discussed, Mayorga felt called to attend the hearings, and sign a petition against the bill.
Mayorga, who has been involved in pro-life activism for a little over a year, first became interested in the cause because of her involvement with the pro-life organization Rhode Island Right to Life.
“People don’t realize how sacred life is, and how abortion affects the mother so much as well as the baby,” Mayorga said. “Women need our support.”
Both the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act and the Born Alive Infant Protection Act were held for further study.
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