RI advocates urge McKee to further expand access to abortion

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – Nearly two dozen advocacy groups are urging Gov. Dan McKee to sign an executive order ensuring abortion procedures are covered for all women in Rhode Island.

In a letter to the governor, advocacy groups urged him to “use every tool at his disposal” to protect a woman’s right to choose.

“We must do all we can to ensure access to timely, affordable, and compassionate abortion care when people need it,” the letter said.

The push for abortion rights follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed women the constitutional right to abortion for more than 50 years.

Although Rhode Island codified Roe v. Wade in state law, procedural costs would not be covered for state employees and Medicaid recipients. That’s why advocates are specifically asking McKee to sign an executive order requiring state-funded insurance to cover abortion procedures.

The Rhode Island General Assembly concluded its legislative session last month without approving a high-profile bill that would have done just that, much to the dismay of abortion rights advocates.

“Despite the importance of passing these laws, our legislators have failed to enact them,” the letter said. “It is not enough to say that we are protecting the right if we do not guarantee access and do not ensure that people who need care can obtain it regardless of the type of insurance they use.

McKee recently signed an executive order protecting reproductive health care providers and abortion patients statewide.

But advocates say more needs to be done, adding that lack of coverage is financially preventing thousands of Rhode Island women from having abortions.

“Current policies are fueling health inequities and pushing abortion rights away from people struggling to make ends meet,” the letter continued.

McKee has repeatedly voiced support for the legislation, but a spokesperson for the governor said in a statement that his hands were tied.

“Our legal office has concluded that we cannot use an executive order to override the expressed prohibitions codified in statute,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The best course of action is for the General Assembly to pass the bill and send it to the governor’s office for signing in the next session.”

RI House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate Speaker Dominick Ruggerio have previously said the measure will be considered again in 2023.

This response does not sit well with supporters, who argue that there is no time to waste.

“Don’t tell us to wait until next year,” the letter reads. “It is time to end health coverage bans and direct public health programs to include abortion coverage. We urgently need to act as if our lives depend on it, because it does.

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