The outlook for an abortion bill in the RI Senate Judiciary Committee got more uncertain Monday night when Sen. Stephen Archambault (D-Smithfield), the likely swing vote on the issue, said he could not support the legislation and instead suggested an amended version of the bill.
"As someone who believes in a woman’s right to choose and who thinks it is important to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade into state law given the current composition of the US Supreme Court, I am putting forward my own legislation that does just that," Archambault wrote in a statement on Facebook. "I do so because the legislation before us, S 152A, in its present form goes well beyond Roe v. Wade as currently interpreted by the US Supreme Court, and there has been no willingness by the sponsors to reach a principled compromise."
But Senate spokesman Greg Pare said there are not enough votes on the nine-member Judiciary Committee to pass Archambault's amendment, and abortion-rights supporters accused Archambault of trying to play both sides of the issue.
"As the vile attacks on reproductive rights escalate across the nation, Rhode Island is poised to set an example by protecting an individual’s right to control their own body and their own future," Amanda Skinner, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Senator Stephen Archambault has decided the lies and distortions of those who seek to ban safe, legal abortion will give him cover to have it both ways. In putting forward his alternative bill, Senator Archambault continues to propagate misinformation aimed at manipulating people and fomenting fear. "
Archambault was identified by The Public's Radio in March as a key swing vote on the abortion issue. If he sticks by his newly stated opposition to the abortion bill, the legislation will likely be defeated in committee Tuesday evening, on five to four vote.
If the bill is defeated, angry abortion-rights supporters can be expected to put their support behind a series of primary challengers to Senate Democrats next year.
"The RI Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, and our partner organizations, are stunned to read the comments released by Senator Archambault about his interpretation of Senator Goldin’s bill S152A," the coalition said in a statement. "It is clear that he is falling for the gross-misinformation campaign that opponents have been spreading for months. The Reproductive Health Care Act is the result of years of collaboration between lawmakers, community groups and the RI Coalition for Reproductive Freedom. It clearly upholds the status quo and ensures that a pregnant person can access safe, legal abortion, in consultation with her doctor, up to fetal viability."
Supporters of the bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Gayle Goldin (D-Providence), previously said they would not back an amended version of the bill. An identical version, introduced by Rep. Anastasia Williams (D-Providence) passed the House on March 7 on a 44-to-30 vote.
Goldin did not respond to messages seeking comment earlier on Monday.
Without Archambault, the nine-member Judiciary Committee is believed to be evenly divided on the abortion issue.
In his statement, Archambault said he can not support the legislation as proposed, and he offered a proposed amendment. Here is the rest of his statement:
"While I am pro-choice, I do believe in reasonable restrictions on abortions, once a pregnancy moves beyond viability. Simply put, viability means when a fetus is so close to fully formed that it is likely to be able to survive outside the womb -- if born. Reasonable restrictions are permissible under Roe v. Wade as currently interpreted by the US Supreme Court."
"S152A, contrary to the claims of its sponsor, goes well beyond codifying Roe v. Wade and wipes out laws on the books that are clearly permissible under Roe v. Wade as currently interpreted, without replacing them with any new safeguards," he continued. "I cannot support post-viability abortions that are based on undefined 'health' reasons and would permit very late term, up to date of birth, abortions. It simply goes too far.
"My legislation, which I hope to offer as an amendment tomorrow, codifies Roe and protects women’s rights, but it also provides common sense safeguards post-viability, limiting late term abortions. It is available for review tonight on my Facebook page and I will distribute it in tomorrow’s Committee hearing.
"I reject the all or nothing mind-set that essentially says ‘its post-viability, late term abortions or nothing at all.’ I respectfully submit that my legislation points the way to a principled compromise that reflects the views of most Rhode Islanders. But I have no pride of authorship, I will support any legislation that straightforwardly codifies Roe v. Wade."
This story has been updated.