Equality in Abortion Coverage Act enacted

 

STATE HOUSE – Following a 24-12 vote in the Senate today that granted approval by the General Assembly, the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act has been signed into law.

Sponsored by Sen. Bridget Valverde and House Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian, the EACA will provide insurance coverage for abortion care to individuals on Medicaid as well as state employees.

The House, which passed its version of the bill April 27 on a 49-24 vote, gave the identical Senate version its approval today following the Senate vote. The legislation was submitted immediately to Gov. Daniel McKee, who signed it into law this evening.

“With this bill, we are taking a big step forward in ensuring that every Rhode Islander has reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy. When a patient needs an abortion, their ability to get the safe and legal care they want should not be dictated by financial limitations set in law to intentionally prevent access. People who are on Medicaid or who are state employees need real access to reproductive health care just like everyone else, and today we are eliminating a major barrier. The vast majority of Rhode Islanders support reproductive justice, and I’m proud and very grateful that my colleagues here in the General Assembly stood with them today, ” said Senator Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, South Kingstown).

           Said Whip Kazarian, “The Reproductive Privacy Act, which the General Assembly enacted in 2019, ensured that Rhode Islanders’ rights were protected under state law when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. With passage of the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act today, we will complete that work, providing genuine equality and access for everyone in Rhode Island who needs reproductive health services. While the federal protections that stood for a half-century have been eradicated and reproductive rights remain under attack around the country, Rhode Island is moving forward in ensuring reproductive freedom for all, and I am deeply grateful to our colleagues and the many supporters who have worked tirelessly to get us here.”

The legislation (2023-S 0032, 2023-H 5006)  eliminates sections of law that expressly prohibit the state’s Medicaid programs and all health insurance provided to state employees from covering any abortion, except in cases of rape or incest or when completion of the pregnancy would be life-threatening.

  Those prohibitions, up to now, have left Medicaid enrollees and state employees to pay the full cost of abortion procedures out of pocket. Roughly one-quarter of Rhode Islanders are covered by Medicaid, and another 30,000 are covered by state employee plans. Since Medicaid is for individuals who have low incomes or are disabled, supporters have argued that the ban is discriminatory and forces struggling people to have to choose between getting the procedure and food, rent and other necessities.

 The bill adds Rhode Island to the ranks of 16 states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, whose Medicaid programs cover abortion. In compliance with the federal Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion services, the EACA adds language to state law that specifies that no federal funds shall be used to pay for them, except as authorized under federal law.

“We are grateful to bill sponsor Senator Valverde, Senate Judiciary Chair Euer and the members of the Senate for affirming the need for all Rhode Islanders to have access to abortion services, and voting in support of the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act. It has been too long that those in Medicaid and the State Employee Health Plan have been denied access to abortion care. We thank all the Senators who voted yes on the EACA, joining their House counterparts who supported passage of this bill last month. As parts of the United States enact ever-stricter restrictions on abortion, here in Rhode Island we stand strongly with reproductive freedom, and will work tirelessly to make care available to all,” said Nicole Jellinek, chair of the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom.

Said Jocelyn Foye, director of The Womxn Project and organizer with the statewide Campaign for Equal Abortion Coverage, “We don’t want to live in a community where the money you have in the bank determines if you get to have an abortion when you need one. We are so grateful that in Rhode Island, no matter what kind of insurance someone uses, that after tonight they will get to control their own body and plan their families and their futures! We are proud to lead the Campaign for Equal Abortion Coverage and grateful to every partner, every lawmaker and every activist who worked with us to get rid of harmful bans on abortion coverage!”

“This victory would not have been possible without the leadership of bill sponsors Whip Katherine Kazarian and Senator Bridget Valverde, the House and Senate leadership who prioritized expanding access to abortion care, and Governor McKee for including funding for the EACA in his budget,” said Gretchen Raffa, vice president of public policy, advocacy and organizing at Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island. “Thanks to their leadership, Rhode Islanders will no longer be denied coverage for abortion based on who they are or what they earn because the legal right to abortion is meaningless if people cannot afford or access the care they need. The EACA will ensure people can make the health care decisions that are best for them about their bodies and their lives without political interference.”

Both the House and the Senate bill were cosponsored by a majority of the members of each chamber. Among the Senate cosponsors were Sens. Tiara Mack (D-Dist. 6, Providence), V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown), Jonathon Acosta (D-Dist.16, Central Falls, Pawtucket), Melissa A. Murray (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield), Majority Leader Ryan W. Pearson (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln), Sens. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, North Kingstown, Narragansett, New Shoreham) and Valarie J. Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence).

Among the House bill cosponsors were Reps. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence), Karen Alzate (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket), Leonela Felix (D-Dist. 61, Pawtucket), House Majority Leader Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence), Reps. Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown), Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett), Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren), Joshua J. Giraldo (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls) and Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport).

 

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