Valverde introduces Equality in Abortion Coverage Act
STATE HOUSE – Sen. Bridget Valverde has introduced the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act aimed at ensuring that the right to abortion is actually accessible to all Rhode Islanders.
The legislation will ensure that individuals on Medicaid and state health insurance plans have coverage for abortion procedures and are no longer excluded from accessing their rights because of financial barriers imposed in state law.
“This is the fourth year I have introduced this legislation, and support both inside and outside the State House continues to grow. A clear majority of members in both the House and Senate have signed onto this legislation this year and Rhode Islanders are overwhelmingly with us. It’s time to end these abortion coverage bans.
“We protected the right to an abortion in Rhode Island when we passed the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019, but people who rely on Medicaid or a state health plan are still prevented from using their health coverage to pay for abortion. That’s wrong and we have a responsibility to end these discriminatory bans that overwhelmingly affect low-income communities and people with disabilities. In a time when many states across the country are enacting abortion bans that take their health care systems backward, I am proud to join with my colleagues to further ensure access to reproductive healthcare for all Rhode Islanders,” said Senator Valverde (D-Dist. 35, East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown). “We can’t say that Rhode Island truly respects our reproductive rights until we tear down these very intentional legal roadblocks that ban people from accessing health care.”
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. The legislation, which has also been introduced in the House by House Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence), would eliminate sections of law that expressly prohibit state employees’ and Medicaid recipients’ insurance from covering abortion outside of the excepted cases of rape or incest or where the life of the mother would be endangered. In compliance with the federal Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion services, it adds language that specifies that no federal funds shall be used to pay for them, except as authorized under federal law. The bill would add Rhode Island to the ranks of 16 states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, whose Medicaid programs cover abortion.
“Passing the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act is fundamental to ensuring that all Rhode Islanders, particularly people of color and low-income people, have true and meaningful access to abortion care. The current bans that take away health coverage for abortion reinforce inequities and push care out of reach for many people in our state. They take away the right that we worked so hard to protect. No matter what kind of insurance you use, you should get to control your body and plan your family and future. We are proud to come together to support this bill and ensure the health, dignity and bodily autonomy of all Rhode Islanders,” said Jocelyn Foye, Director of The Womxn Project and organizer with the statewide Campaign for Equal Abortion Access.
“The Equality in Abortion Coverage Act will eliminate all bans on abortion coverage in Rhode Island. Today, state laws prohibit nearly 1 in 3 Rhode Islanders — people enrolled in Medicaid and state employees — from using their health insurance to cover abortion. This ban is discriminatory and racist, reinforcing inequity and health care disparities in our state. Our Coalition of more than 20 organizations stands with the 72% of Rhode Islanders who agree that Rhode Islanders with health insurance through Medicaid or the state should receive the same coverage for abortion services as those insured by private health insurers. We believe that medical decisions should be private between a person and their health care provider. Everyone in our state deserves to make healthcare decisions that are best for them and without political interference. We are grateful to Senator Valverde and Whip Kazarian for their leadership and thank all the sponsors in the House and Senate who have committed to passing this critical policy. Together, we’ll work to eliminate barriers to sexual and reproductive health care and expand access to abortion,” said Nicole Jellinek, Chair of the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom.
The bill was introduced with 21 Senate cosponsors, including 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).
The House companion bill (2023-H 5006) was introduced with 43 cosponsors on Jan. 5. Cosponsors of the House legislation are 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).