Rhode Island Passes Radical Abortion Bill

Latest Democrat-controlled state to adopt late-term abortion protections

Gov. Gina Raimondo / Getty Images

Rhode Island became the latest Democrat-dominated state to adopt radical legislation protecting abortion up until birth.

Democratic governor Gina Raimondo signed the Reproductive Privacy Act into law Wednesday. It will allow for abortion procedures to take place after fetal viability—when the baby is able to live outside the womb—as long as doctors say the mother's health is at risk. The bill, which passed the Senate 21 to 17 and the House 45 to 29, also lifts abortion limits prior to fetal viability. Gov. Raimondo said in a statement that the legislation was designed to guarantee "the status quo under Roe v. Wade," the 1971 case that eliminated state restrictions on abortion.

"Women and their families across Rhode Island will be free from the fear that the reproductive health care they need today will be illegal tomorrow," Raimondo said.

Many of the provisions that the legislation overturned, however, enjoy bipartisan support. A poll commissioned by the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List found that 73 percent of Rhode Island voters oppose late-term abortions. That number jumps to 77 percent when voters are informed that the bill legalizes abortion up until birth—including 69 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents, 80 percent of women, and 62 percent of those identifying as pro-choice.

"It is extremely disappointing to see Rhode Island lawmakers cave to pressure from the abortion lobby to pass this radical bill," SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a release. "Rhode Islanders should not be fooled by the smokescreen of ‘compromise': This law expands abortion on demand through the moment of birth."

While Raimondo portrayed the effort as an attempt to safeguard abortion access from potential judicial shifts, the rollback of abortion limits will take effect immediately. Democrats rejected Republican state senator Elaine Morgan's attempt to add a trigger that would ensure the law would only be enacted if Roe v. Wade is repealed. The Democratic majority in Rhode Island rejected a provision from another Republican state senator, Jessica de La Cruz, which would have added a measure to the bill requiring anesthesia to be provided to babies during abortions, as they can feel pain in the third trimester.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Catholic Diocese of Providence called the passing of the bill "profoundly disappointing" and "a very dark day in the history of our state."

"[D]on't be discouraged by this very temporary set-back," he tweeted when referring to the failed efforts of pro-life groups in his state. "We will continue to oppose the prevailing culture of death in our society and faithfully and joyfully proclaim the goodness and beauty of life! God bless you!"

The Rhode Island law comes after a number of Republican-controlled states, as well as Louisiana under Democratic governor John Bel Edwards, have adopted legislation to protect unborn babies based on their fetal age or development, using the heartbeat or ability to experience pain as cut-offs for abortion. Pro-life activists said the embrace of late-term abortion represents an unprecedented step toward extremism.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said Democrats are out-of-step with voters on the issue.

"It's heartbreaking to watch yet another state cheer on the enactment of extreme abortion legislation," Mancini said in an email. "We have come a long way from the Democratic mantra of ‘safe, legal and rare' to the celebration of abortion-on-demand until birth. The large majority of Americans want abortion limited to—at most—the first three months of pregnancy."

Democratic governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois signed a similar bill into law earlier this month that repealed the state's Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act despite the federal ban still being in place. New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D.) signed an abortion law in January also legalizing abortion up until birth.