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Friday, February 23, 2018

The battle for choice in Rhode Island

Planned Parenthood launches 50 state initiative to expand reproductive health care access
Planned Parenthood  announced a “sweeping plan” to “push initiatives that expand access to reproductive health care in all 50 states.”

In Rhode Island, that effort takes the form of the 2018 Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA), introduced by Representative Edith Ajello (Democrat, District 1, Providence) and State Senator Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence). 

The RHCA said Ajello, would “protect a woman’s right to a safe, legal abortion in our state — and safeguard it against threats from the Trump-Pence administration. It would also repeal a number of restrictions passed in recent years since Roe v Wade, most of them enjoined by the courts but nevertheless still on the books.”

Ajello was speaking on a press call to announce the new Planned Parenthood initiative. She was the only elected official in the country on the call.

Planned Parenthood noted that their effort comes on the heels of the “growing grassroots movement for women’s rights” and when “more women than ever before have been elected into state legislatures.”

Planned Parenthood is responding to actions by the “Trump-Pence administration” that has allowed “employers to deny birth control coverage to their employees, cut teen pregnancy prevention programs, tried to block care at Planned Parenthood, and stacked the courts with anti-abortion judges.” 

These policies, says Planned Parenthood, “are hardest on communities of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community who have been historically discriminated against, and as a result have worse access to reproductive health care — and worse health outcomes. 

This is a result of systemic barriers that can make it difficult, or nearly impossible, to access health care, including poverty, lack of transportation, lack of paid sick leave, lack of childcare, lack of insurance, the risk of detention and deportation, and a historical distrust of the medical community.”

During the press callDawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, “Today, we’re going on the offense. We’ve been marching, mobilizing, and organizing — and now we’re channeling that into real policy change. The Trump-Pence administration has been attacking our patients’ fundamental rights and access to health care, emboldening state politicians to follow its reckless lead. 

"We need to do more than just fight against the bad policies — now is the time to push for good ones. We’ve already seen the power of the historic grassroots movement that’s growing nationwide. It defeated bad health care repeal bills three times in Congress, and helped to keep Planned Parenthood’s doors open. 

"Now, together with our partners, we are moving forward to fight for people’s health and rights, state by state, bill by bill. We’re starting with more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia this week alone, and we’re pushing for efforts in all 50 states. 

Everyone deserves the freedom and opportunity to control their lives at the most basic level, including access to birth control, quality sex education, and safe, legal abortion. No matter what Trump and Pence say, your body is your own. If it is not, you cannot be truly free or equal.”

Also on the press call was Christine Sadovy, Political and Legislative Director for Planned Parenthood of Northern, Central, and Southern New Jersey; and Mauricio Calvo, Executive Director of Latino Memphis.

Here are the full remarks of Representative Ajello on the press call:

So that you don’t get distracted with addition and subtraction as I talk about my personal history I am 73 years old.

In 1965 to celebrate my 21st birthday my boyfriend suggested /planned my first sexual intercourse. I still smirk thinking about that as a birthday gift for me. I learned a few weeks later that I was pregnant…My first experience with intercourse. I was then at the end of my junior year at Bucknell University in LewisburgPennsylvania. I was panicked/traumatized and most concerned that I would not be able to successfully complete the most challenging course of that semester, in fact the most challenging course of my college career. I was simply not ready to be pregnant, to be a parent. 

That professor led me to Dr Robert Spencer, in Ashland, Pennsylvania, who was known far and wide as a compassionate man.

He could be counted upon to go into mines to treat injured and sick coal miners. He was also known far and wide for providing abortions which were illegal until the 1973 Roe v Wade decision.

I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have had an abortion provided by Dr Robert Spencer in the years before abortion became legal, before a woman’s right to control her own body was recognized by the United States Supreme Court in 1973. 

I was/am a middle class, well educated white woman. Women like me have always been luckier because we don’t face the same prejudices and barriers. In the 60’s and before that, too many women had back alley abortions. Too many women died of sepsis and too many women were rendered infertile by unsafe abortions.

Today, abortion is extremely safe because it is legal. Because it is legal, it’s taught in medical schools, subject to ongoing research, and a part of regular medical practice for many gynecologists.

I fear that the current president and national legislative majorities will take us back to a time before Roe, and leave more women to turn to unsafe options. 

However, in this time of grave and growing threat to reproductive freedom at the federal level, Rhode Islanders are mobilizing like never before to defend and expand our reproductive rights. We have seen this movement in the thousands who joined the Women’s March on Jan 21st of last year and again on January 20th of this year.

We’ve seen it in the hundreds who came to the Rhode Island State House over the last year to speak with their legislators and testify before legislative committees. 

We’ve seen it in the thousands of postcards in support of the Rhode Island Health Care Act that were delivered to elected official last session. 

We’ve seen it in the phenomenal growth of the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, which now has 19 member organizations. Lawmakers are listening. 

Legislation I have introduced with Senator Gayle Goldin would protect a woman’s right to a safe, legal abortion in our state — and safeguard it against threats from the Trump-Pence administration. 

It would also repeal a number of restrictions passed in recent years since Roe v Wade, most of them enjoined by the courts but nevertheless still on the books.

Dozens of our colleagues are standing with us because they know that the attacks on reproductive freedom are not hypothetical. And they’re not what people in our state want. It’s time we make sure all our voices are heard so that all people have the freedom to control their own bodies and don’t face the same harrowing decision I did as a young woman.