Reaction from across R.I. critical of Roe v. Wade overturn

GOV. DANIEL J. MCKEE is among several Rhode Island leaders who on Friday criticized the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade. McKee called the decision a 'travesty.' / SCREENSHOT VIA WPRI-TV CBS 12
GOV. DANIEL J. MCKEE signed the $13.6 billion state budget for 2023 fiscal year on Monday. SCREENSHOT VIA WPRI-TV CBS 12

PROVIDENCE – Several Rhode Island elected officials and candidates seeking elective office, nonprofit leaders, and a prominent health care organization were among those Friday who publicly spoke out against the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the longstanding federal ruling allowing constitutional protections for abortions.

The 6-3 vote from the court to overturn the 1973 landmark decision may allow states to ban abortions. The R.I. General Assembly passed in June 2019 the Reproductive Privacy Act, which codified the legal right for women to have an abortion in the Ocean State.

But many in Rhode Island still criticized the court’s decision. Gov. Daniel J. McKee in a statement called Friday’s ruling a “travesty.” He said the decision will not stop abortions, but will “only make them less safe.” He called on the U.S. Congress to act and support “a woman’s right to choose, just like Rhode Island has done.”

R.I. Secretary of State and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nellie M. Gorbea said Friday in a statement she will “do everything in my power” to ensure Rhode Islanders continue to have equitable access to safe abortions if elected this November. She said passing the Rhode Island Equity in Abortion Coverage Act will be a priority for her if she becomes governor, but she welcomes a special General Assembly session to pass this law before this January.

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R.I. Attorney General Peter F. Neronha said in a statement the right for a woman to choose to end her pregnancy has been “an established, fundamental right.” He said the notion of the Supreme Court reversing its stance on Roe v. Wade and eliminating it “has been unthinkable.”

“And yet that is precisely what the Supreme Court has done today, in a decision that endangers women’s health and turns the court’s own long-standing principles recognizing the critical importance of adhering to legal precedent on their head,” Neronha said. He also said his office has previously succeeded in defending the state’s Reproductive Privacy Act from a legal challenge and “we stand ready to defend it in the future.” In May, the R.I. Supreme Court upheld the Reproductive Privacy Act.

On behalf of Care New England Health System, Women & Infants Hospital’s and Brown University Warren Alpert Medical School Professor Dr. Ben Brown said in a statement the public knows the decision will likely lead to at least 26 states to “move quickly or immediately ban” abortion in those states. He said this is going to be “devastating” to those needing medical care and to their communities.

Kelly Nevins, CEO and president of Providence-based Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, said in a statement that beyond the threat to abortion rights, the overturning of Roe v. Wade has “serious implications and potential consequences for other feminist causes,” including birth control, gay marriage, transgender rights, and the safety and security of LGBTQ+ and feminist activists. Additionally, abortion bans and restrictions fall hardest on Black, Indigenous, and other people of color working to make ends meet, Nevins said.

“Part of building a more just and equitable society is ensuring that abortion care is available and affordable for all,” Nevins said.

Other Rhode Island officials, including Democratic gubernatorial candidates Helena B. Foulkes, Luiz Daniel Munoz and Matt Brown; Sen. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; Congressional candidates Sarah Morgenthau and David Segal; Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos; American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown; and Planned Parenthood of Southern New England CEO and President Amanda Skinner, also panned the court’s ruling.

“I will now have to explain to my daughter that she may not grow up to have the same fundamental access to health care as my son,” Matos said.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, however, applauded the court’s ruling. The Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin said in a statement Friday he is “very pleased” the court overturned Roe v. Wade, calling the decision “proper for both moral and legal reasons.” Tobin said the Catholic church has been “clear and consistent” in teaching that abortion is “a grave moral evil.” He also criticized the Reproductive Privacy Act, calling it “a disgraceful law,” and asks elected officials to revisit it.

Tobin did say the diocese has responded “for many years” to particular needs women encounter while pregnant, such as providing women personal and material assistance to pregnant women via St. Gabriel’s Call, and offering financial scholarships to assist parents with child care expenses through the Cabrini Fund. He said he has directed diocesan staff to “increase the support” for women and children and “to be alert to other and new ways of providing assistance to women, children and families in the days to come.”

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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