One week ago, tomorrow, Ireland, one of the most historically Catholic countries had a vote to make abortion legal. It passed by an overwhelming majority. It would seem that the citizens of Ireland know three things; 1. That women will only achieve equality when they have control over their reproduction and 2. That women deserve access to safe and legal medical health care procedures, such as abortion. 3. The Catholic Church’s stance on abortion hurts women.
Right now, in America it is clear that there may be a tomorrow where women will lose their rights to safe and legal abortion. Contrary to what Speaker Mattiello and President Ruggerio may wish to believe, conservative states such as Iowa are passing restrictive abortion bills with their true goal to have them challenged at the Supreme Court, in effect a challenge to Roe v Wade. Our President has stated numerous times that he is now a supporter of the pro-life cause and we know that if given the very real chance, he will appoint another conservative pro-life judge to the supreme court bench.
The reality of this is; tomorrow in Rhode Island, women may have to resort to Pre-Roe days to receive the healthcare that they will access regardless of if abortion is illegal. In the pre-Roe days, it is estimated that 1,000 to 5,000 women died annually of unsafe, illegal abortions (Doctors of Conscience: The Struggle to Provide Abortion Before and After Roe v Wade by Carole Joffe). For the opponents of the RHCA, who say they are pro-life, we would like to remind them that women’s lives have value and we deserve the right to not place ourselves in imminent danger when accessing a medical procedure. We know that when abortion is illegal, women die. Passing of the RHCA would ensure that the women in our state would have access to safe and legal abortion and contraception regardless of what happens federally. It would keep our bodies safe and ensure that we have the ability to control the outcome of our lives, financially, emotionally and physically.
Our tiny state was founded on a belief in religious freedom. Our country was founded on a separation of church and state. In RI, it would seem that the stronghold of the Catholic church, and its long arm of influence is a major prohibitor for this bill being brought to floors of the House and Senate for a vote. Is every RI citizen a person of the Catholic faith? We know this to not be true. Our state is home to people from multiple faiths, many of which do not prohibit women from making personal medical decisions about their own bodies. So why then does our state, with its history of religious freedom allow the Catholic Church the power through political pressure to impose its doctrine on all of the other people of differing religions? Is this a true separation of church and state?
If Rhode Island is a democracy, then our leaders would be doing their jobs by representing the sixty three percent of our state, (a majority) who support access to reproductive health care. They would respect the women that they represent as equals, able to make medical decisions for their own bodies without government interference. They would act pro-actively to keep RI women’s bodies safe. They would ensure that the women in our state have control over their economic, emotional, and physical lives. They would separate their personal religious beliefs (and fear of retribution from the leaders of The Church) from their responsibilities to their constituents and not impose them upon us. “Democracy begins with people having full ownership of their bodies” –Gloria Steinem.
If Rhode Island is a democracy then our leaders have the ultimate obligation to ensure a tomorrow where Rhode Island women have full ownership of their bodies by bringing the RHCA to the floor of both houses for a vote.
Written by Mara Trachtenberg
for The Woman Project’s submitted testimony on May 31, 2018