About 85,000 women of child-bearing age are enrolled in state health insurance plans that do not cover abortions, according to an anaylsis by the State Budget Office.

Legislation re-introduced in the General Assembly this session by state Representative Liana M. Cassar, D-Barrington, and Senator Bridget Valverde, D-North Kingstown, would allow abortions to be covered by the Medicaid program and state employee health plans.

The 2019 Reproductive Privacy Act  protects the right to abortion in Rhode Island, but the cost and lack of coverage of abortions for low-income women and those in state health plans makes accessing services difficult.

More than 280 people gathered at the State House Thursday night for a House Finance Committee hearing on the bill. Among them was a University of Rhode Island student who was waiting to testify in support of the legislation.

(This transcript has been edited.)

My name is Antonia Simmons. I am 20 years old, almost 21. And I am a current URI student studying English and psychology.

I'm on a state employee health plan. And so this bill 7442 would directly affect my own access to abortion. And I believe that it's the right of anybody who is on Medicaid or state health insurance, that they should be able to have an abortion, if that is what they choose for themselves.

I am a 20 year old woman and I deserve the right to make my own choices about my own body and my own health and my own future.

So if I were to get pregnant, first of all I am in college, I have absolutely no desire, or really the ability right now to be a good mother to raise a child. So the first thing on my mind would be, how can I safely end this pregnancy. And as somebody who's on the state health insurance, it would not be covered currently by state health insurance. And abortions can run between $500 and $1,500 for the procedure. So we would have to pay that out of pocket.

Now I personally am fortunate enough to have a supportive family and a fairly high socioeconomic status. However, even for somebody of our socioeconomic status, $1,500 is not cheap. That would be a significant cost. And for many, many people that I go to school with, especially, I know so many people who are on state health plans, they have parents who are state employees, and they are working two or three jobs just to get through college. Now for people like that an abortion would be completely out of their price range.  It would either be probably taking a semester off college or getting the abortion and that would be the choice that they would have to make.

I call it systemic racism because Medicaid really provides for a lot of the lower class individuals, socioeconomic status individuals in Rhode Island, and of course, a huge majority* of that population is people of color. And so there's been so much research that shows that abortion access is a racial issue and it is a class issue. And by not having state health insurance and Medicaid provide for abortions, you are reinforcing those systems of oppression.

*Editor’s note: people of color account for just under half of all women and girls in Rhode Island enrolled in Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people, according to data from the state Department of Administration.

At Thursday's hearing, supporters of the bill out-numbered opponents. About 64% percent of the nearly 280 people who signed up to testify indicated they were in favor of the bill, though not all of them spoke, according to State House records. Of the roughly 143 people who testified, more than 80% spoke in favor of the legislation.

The bill was held for further study.

Health reporter Lynn Arditi can be reached at larditi@thepublicsradio.org. Follow her on Twitter @LynnArditi