PROVIDENCE, RI (AP) — Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee on Thursday signed a bill that would allow state funds to be used to pay for health insurance plans that cover employees of the State and Medicaid recipients seeking abortions.
The signing ceremony took place almost immediately after the state Senate approved the measure, also on Thursday, in a 24-12 vote after less than an hour of debate in the chamber.
McKee, a Democrat, said he was proud to sign the bill and include related funding in his state budget proposal.
“Here in Rhode Island, we will always protect women’s right to choose and ensure equal access to these crucial health services,” he said.
An identical version of the measure cleared the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on April 27 by a vote of 49 to 24.
Democratic state Senator Bridget Valverde, one of the bill’s sponsors, said despite a vote by Rhode Island lawmakers four years ago to enshrine the right to a safe and legal abortion in the state , the work to help ensure access to abortion was unfinished.
“For many, the law has remained an illusion,” she said. “It’s because a right to a health care service is useless if we intentionally prevent people’s health insurance from covering it.”
Medicaid patients and state workers deserve the same access to care as people enrolled in private health insurance plans, she said.
With the new law, doctors will no longer have to tell their low-income patients that their health insurance won’t cover their abortion, she added.
Opponents have said the state should not require state taxpayers, including those with moral objections to the procedure, to cover the cost of abortions.
“For decades, the consensus has held that, regardless of one’s opinion on the legality or advisability of abortion, taxpayers should not be forced or encouraged to pay for abortions,” said the Republican Senator Jessica de la Cruz.
About a quarter of Rhode Islanders are covered by Medicaid and another 30,000 are covered by state employee plans, proponents of the new law said. They had to pay the full cost of the abortions out of pocket.
The legislation repeals a section of state law prohibiting Rhode Island from including any provision providing coverage for induced abortions in any health insurance contract with state employees. Current law exempts cases where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term, or where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.
Other critics, including Democratic House Labor Committee Chairman Arthur Corvese, said it’s one thing to end a pregnancy because of rape, incest or the health of the child. the mother, and another to do it because it was not planned.
Rhode Island’s measure follows a pattern that emerged during the first legislative sessions in most states since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. Republicans are working to toughen restrictions on abortion, while Democratic-dominated states are working to protect access for their residents and residents of other states who arrive for care.
The Associated Press