I have been an advocate for reproductive rights since I was an undergraduate student at the University of Connecticut. However, I truly gained clarity about the importance of women's reproductive freedom when I was a Peace Corps volunteer working with a women's group in a small rural town on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. It happened on my first day working with the group of about 12 women in a bakery which was begun to provide the women with economic opportunity. Once we got started baking in the small open-air, rustic building with a beautiful round stone oven, the very first question I was asked was very simple "How do you keep from getting pregnant?".
I was instantly able to see clearly that the way women answer that question for themselves determines their life's journey. I was a woman in her early 20s with the freedom to travel the world and almost every one of the women in front of me had become mothers of multiple children before the age of 20. Their lives, their families and their economic opportunities were entirely shaped by their reproductive lives. It was urgent for them to ask the gringa for useful information to prevent and plan future pregnancies.
History shows that when there is no access to contraception women will have unintended pregnancies, which is what my bakers were trying to avoid. Access to contraception and abortion are interwoven issues for women all over the world including here in Rhode Island. When there is no access to contraception, women who do not want to or who cannot carry a pregnancy to term are compelled to seek any means available to terminate their pregnancies. When abortion is not safe, legal and available, women - disproportionately young and poor women - will die and suffer severe injury or infertility from illegal and unsafe abortion procedures and methods. Rhode Island women are no different than the women I baked with in Costa Rica, we need information and access to reproductive health services.
In the state of RI General Assembly, at the US Department of Health and Human Services and at the Supreme Court, women's reproductive rights are at risk today. This is a significant public health concern and impacts our families, our communities and our economy. We need to work together to support a system that trusts women with their bodies and their health choices.
Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA)
Rhode Island's General Assembly missed the opportunity to codify women's reproductive rights into law with the passage of the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA), introduced in 2017 and 2018 in its current form, but essentially similar to bills introduced over the past 25 years. In 2018 the House Bill (H7340) had 29 co-sponsors - just shy of 40% of the House of Representatives - yet it was still not brought to the floor for a vote. Representative Jason Knight was the sole legislator who did not agree to hold the bill for further study as is the well-known method for keeping bills from getting to a vote. The Senate Bill (S2163) was co-sponsored by 9 Senators (including Barrington's own Senator Cindy Coyne), and that bill was also not brought to the floor for a vote. The majority of Rhode Islanders support women's access to safe and legal abortion services. Should Roe V. Wade be overturned by the Supreme Court, which is looking more and more likely with the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch and the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Rhode Island women, especially young women and women in poverty, will bear the burden of this substandard health policy that denies women comprehensive reproductive health services.
Proposed Changes to Title X
In June, the current administration proposed changes to Title X, the federal grant program from the US Department of Health and Human Services. This grant provides funding for family planning services to low-income women, preventing unplanned pregnancies and reducing funds needed for other federal services. The proposal sends a clear message that the administration does not trust women, especially young women and women in poverty, with their own health and their own bodies. Instead, it demonstrates that it supports regressive ideas by eliminating women's access to health services, including contraception, that support their privacy and bodily autonomy while shifting support to agencies and providers who will not provide comprehensive options for women's reproductive health services. The article 'More Than a Gag Rule' Atlantic, June 4, 2018, about a Title X grantee in Texas, is a helpful illustration of what will happen to basic family planning services for the poor as a result of the proposed changes. The changes will not only impact services, but will certainly impact the financial viability of health clinics in our communities, destabilize our health care safety net and cause a loss of jobs, not to mention the impact on individual women's economic opportunities and their families due to lack of comprehensive reproductive health care.
Supreme Court Nominee
The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court seat being vacated by the retirement of Justice Kennedy has made clear the administration's priorities when it comes to women's reproductive health. Judge Kavanaugh, in 2017, ruled against an undocumented teenager who sought to have an abortion while in federal detention whose right to the procedure was protected under the constitution. This action, among other court decisions he's made, demonstrate his contempt for women's reproductive rights and should serve as a stark reminder that the President and Judge Kavanaugh are eager to restrict women's rights. More perspective is available on the Supreme Court nominee in this Democracy Now interview with Cecile Richards.
We Must Act
These three examples are a stark reminder that the reproductive rights of women in Rhode Island face significant risk, which translates to women's health and women's lives at risk. Women's reproductive health services should no longer be used as a political tool anywhere. Specifically in Rhode Island, decisions need to be made to provide women the health services they need and to support community health services as viable members of our business community providing vital healthcare. Even a national watchdog group, NARAL Pro-Choice America has given Rhode Island an F rating for it's poor protections of women's reproductive rights.
Let's make change here in Rhode Island by electing legislators in November who will work to pass the RHCA and protect women's reproductive rights. Let's continue to be vigilant about Title X and fight against the undermining of women's health services in our state. Let's speak out and oppose the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Rhode Islanders' lives depend on it.
If elected, I vow to be a champion of the RHCA and I will continue to stand with reproductive health activists, Planned Parenthood and the medical community in supporting safe and legal access to abortion services and access to family planning services here in our state and around the country.
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