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Pro-life license plates set back women’s rights

In a legislative session that promoted its priorities as dealing with a failing economy and lack of jobs, the General Assembly instead shifted focus in the final hours of session by fast tracking a special design license plate bill that will fund unregulated Carenet, a so-called crisis pregnancy center.

Despite strong efforts by several members, the General Assembly and hundreds of email and phone messages left by advocates and voters from across the state, House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate leader Teresa Paiva-Weed allowed for the first standalone floor vote against women’s health in decades.

While Rhode Island became the final state in New England to pass marriage equality for all loving couples in 2013, the state is beginning to take a step back for reproductive rights. The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Justice calls on the governor to reject this disingenuous political affront to comprehensive reproductive health services by vetoing this bill.

“We are aggrieved and extremely disappointed that Speaker Gordon Fox, who has stood with women consistently for nearly two decades, allowed the legislature to play games with women’s health,” said Paula Hodges, Rhode Island Public Policy & Advocacy Director for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. Carenet is an unregulated, so-called crisis pregnancy center, that does absolutely nothing to prevent unintended pregnancy or fund evidence-based programs that will curb the abortion rate in Rhode Island. Supporting an organization such as Carenet makes us question where the General Assembly’s priorities are.

Carolyn Mark, president of Rhode Island National Organization for Women said, “the sad reality is that, if anti-abortion activists spent half their energy working with us to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies or on comprehensive sex education and access to family planning services, we could actually help reduce the number of abortions in Rhode Island. We are dismayed and frustrated that this legislature, under Speaker Fox’ leadership, has spent more time appeasing the radical right than looking at real solutions to real problems.”

Rabbi Peter Stein, board member of Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said the following, “I join together with many others, fellow members of the clergy and leaders and activists across Rhode Island, in lamenting the decision to approve an anti-choice license plate option. It is wrong to offer narrow and divisive political perspectives on our state license plates. In addition, with the proceeds from the sale of these plates going to a “crisis pregnancy center,” the state will be supporting manipulative programs that shame women and interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.”

Despite 40 years of a woman’s constitutional right to make her own personal medical decisions, as defined by Roe v Wade, without interference from politicians, access to safe and legal abortion is still at risk in Rhode Island. Rhode Island is one of 22 states — and the only state in New England — that the Guttmacher Institute designates as “hostile” to women’s reproductive health. Rhode Island also receives a D+ from NARAL ProChoice America for lack of access to reproductive health services, stringent informed consent laws, parental consent laws and a ban on public funding for abortions.

While we are disappointed by this vote, we thank the members who stood with us and hope the General Assembly and governor will stand with women in the future.

The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Justice exists to preserve, promote and protect all aspects of women’s reproductive health care and reproductive justice through advocacy and legislative action, statewide and nationally.

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