What’s the rush? An Editorial by Joanne Giannini

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Photo from RI State Senate

As I sit down to write this on Mother’s Day, it is with a heavy heart that I read the Providence Journal article by Katherine Gregg on the most talked about bill this year in the General Assembly being up for a vote this Tuesday.


I fully realize why would anyone care what I think? But, after serving sixteen years in the House of Representatives, I know the parties concerned, and have a feel for what some are thinking and doing. In the General Assembly it is a new era. An era of focusing on all the social issues that were not touched for years - is upon us. (reproductive rights, decriminalizing prostitution, legalization of recreational marijuana, illegal immigration, etc.).


The bill labeled the “Women’s Right to Reproductive Rights” is called the RIHCA bill and has a big push from the progressive movement in this state. This movement has made it their mission to change the moral compass in Rhode Island.


According to “them”, we are denying women the access to choice because the law could be changed federally by President Trump’s appointments on the Supreme Court. There is no indication that this is happening, but forces say we need to be prepared and be proactive.


There are many things we should be prepared and be proactive on in this state, but alas, we are not. This state usually waits for the bombs to fall before they speak out on issues such as, to only name a few, school lunch shaming, 38 Studios and similar state financed debacles,  line item veto issues, school deterioration, DCYF problems, BHDDH failures, the homeless, pension underfunding, and health department regulations. Imagine if the state had been proactive on all these issues?


So much focus is on what might or might not happen, nationally, and how it might - or might not - impact our state. So much fear-mongering. But there’s not enough focus on what’s going on right now, right here. Are we to be like Washington and spend our time focusing on what could be - instead of what is?


I served with Senator Harold Metts on the House Judiciary Committee and respect him so much. He spoke his heart and said he will not vote for both proposed abortion rights bills in the Senate Judiciary Committee and that “there is no version he could support”. Senator Metts is not afraid to say his mind and will stand tall and vote his conscious. His reputation precedes him as a man who truly cares about his district, people and religious beliefs.


Senator Leo Raptakis is also a former colleague, who has always spoken his mind. I also served with him. And, he’s right when he says - “What’s the rush”? He has also voiced concerns on the bill saying that he would be supportive of simply codifying existing law, but that this bill “has gone above and beyond”. He will vote no in committee with Sen. Frank Lombardo, and Sen. Jessica Cruz.


Senator Cynthia Coyne, a proponent of the bill says, “I believe it is necessary. I am concerned about Roe v. Wade being overturned, and I think it is a really important [right] we need to preserve.” She will vote yes, along with Senators Erin Lynch Prata, Dawn Euer, and Mark McKenney.


Other support for Senate bill 152-Sub A and House bill 5125-Sub A has come from the ACLU of Rhode Island, the R.I. National Organization for Women, the League of Women Voters, the National Council of Jewish Women, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, the American Congress of Obstetricians, and the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.


While I must admit all of these agencies do good work on various issues, I feel they are off base on their support. When we talk about rights of women, are we only talking about the born? They are not considering the rights of the unborn, the viable to live, or religious beliefs on abortion.


In a state that has always been predominantly Catholic, it is surprising to see Catholic legislators, who go to church every week and receive communion support a measure that proponents say, “goes way beyond codifying Roe vs. Wade.”  I do not judge these people on their beliefs, but I am sure they judge those of us who disagree.


If you disagree on these bills, you are considered to not be pro-woman or not in support of health rights. That is a crock. We all know Planned Parenthood has given good health services to many, but that does not mean we need to agree on their abortion methods, protocols, positions, or alleged selling of aborted baby parts.


Catholic legislators cannot have it all. You cannot go to church and sit in the front row as an example of your Catholic faith and accept the endorsement of RI Right to Life at election time, then change your position afterwards.


In my own district, the current Rep. Daniel McKiernan did indeed accept the pro-life endorsement. This included a publication in the RI Right to Life Endorsement Newsletter, a pro-life mailing in the district to approximately 300 households, as well as phone bank service given by RI Right to Life. McKiernan co-sponsored the House bill and voted yes in the House Judiciary Committee - and then again on the House Floor. He also noted that he was a lecturer in his church, as he wrote in a letter to the community during election time.


Here is an excerpt from Rep. McKiernan’s campaign letter sent to our neighborhood voters:


          “My deep and abiding belief in justice comes in large part from my spiritual journey as a Catholic. When Christina and I came back to Providence, we started going to Blessed Sacrament, where my dad had been baptized. His family lived in Mount Pleasant before moving to Gentian when he was young. Ultimately my children were both christened at Blessed Sacrament as well. I was also a lector and catechism teacher at Blessed Sacrament. When we moved to our current house, we ended up moving to St. Pius, where I stay involved as a lector. We have our fun, too. After our pastor gave us permission, a number of us gave our time, sweat and treasure to build a nice bocce court. Now we have a summer league that helps to better knit the neighborhood together.”

There were several other pro-life endorsed candidates who also voted for the bill; Rep. Scott Slater, Rep. Jay Edwards. and Rep. John Lombardi.


One of the bones of contention is the issue of late term abortions, which proponents say are very rare. Statistics show they do happen according to a report provided by Providence Journal from the RI Health Department:


“According to the health department, abortions beyond 21 weeks are relatively rare, but they happen. The 2017 numbers: a total of 2,000 reported terminations of pregnancy, including 1,664 between 0-12 weeks, 169 between 13-15 weeks, 134 between 16-20 weeks and 28 after 21-plus weeks of pregnancy”.


The outcome for Tuesday’s Senate vote is anyone’s guess. It’s a close vote with Senator Archambault seeming to be the deciding vote in Senate Judiciary. Senate President Domenic Ruggerio has already said if this bill comes to the floor, he will vote “no”.


The issue here is what will passage do? Will it protect existing rights - or provide further enhancement of existing laws? You be the judge.


Will Catholic legislators feel the bite from their Catholic voters? Or will all be forgotten at election time?


Will legislators who vote “yes” continue to participate in their church as Catholics by being lecturers, sitting in the front pews, and being involved in their parish community? Will the Diocese of Providence speak out at that time? You can’t have it all. But some do!


Evidently Senate President Ruggerio and Speaker Mattiello, both “no” votes, know something the Catholic legislators that voted “yes” do not. Will these votes have repercussions not only for the rank and file but for the leaders who preside over their respective chambers of the House and Senate? I keep hearing that Speaker Mattiello has professed to be the “firewall” against all extreme measures. In this case, he may very well be all wet.

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