Majority of Johnston legislators oppose abortion bill

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Legislation that would codify abortion rights into Rhode Island law recently passed the House of Representatives, 44-30, despite a majority of the Johnston delegation voting against the measure.

Stephen R. Ucci (D-Dist. 42, Johnston, Cranston), Deborah A. Fellela (D-Dist. 43, Johnston) and Gregory Constantino (D-Dist. 44, Lincoln, Smithfield, Johnston) all opposed the Reproductive Privacy Act on March 7. Mario Mendez (D-Dist. 13, Johnston, Providence) was the lone positive vote among the delegation. Mendez and Fellela could not be reached for comment by press time.

The push for Rhode Island to guarantee abortion rights stems from the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which has led some to fear the potential of landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade being overturned. The bill passed in the House would allow for abortions until fetal viability, which can be anywhere between 21 to 28 weeks.

“I don’t believe in abortion,” Ucci, a professed pro-life legislator, told the Sun Rise by phone on Monday. “However, when the bill comes up, you analyze, and the law of the land is that abortion is legal and the states have to weigh the privacy interest of the mother versus the child’s rights.”

Ucci noted that he was a “no” going into last Thursday’s vote. He said that he would have voted to remove the state law that outlaws abortions, since that is unconstitutional. He called the bill itself “flawed in so many ways,” and added that it “went way beyond” codifying existing abortion rights.

“Roe v. Wade is the law of the land,” he said. “It wasn’t a burning platform to do this besides hype by the pro-abortion lobby.”

Ucci advocated a 24-hour waiting period. He said he feared that a woman could be “pressured or coerced” into making her decision.

“[It’d be] an opportunity for women in the 24-hour waiting period to think through their decision,” he said. “What other medical procedure can you go and get on demand? If I call the dentist, I can’t get in that quickly. However, this procedure is something that’s done rather quickly.”

Both Ucci and Constantino opposed eliminating the “quick child” law, which equates the administration of “any medication, drug, or substance or the use of any instrument or device or other means, with intent to destroy the child, unless it is necessary to preserve the life of the mother” to manslaughter if the child dies.

A “quick child,” according to the legislation, is one that is moving, has a heartbeat, measurable brain waves and “who is so far developed and matured as to be capable of surviving the trauma of birth with the aid of usual medical care and facilities available in this state.”

Constantino said during a phone call Monday that he was “pretty much” against the legislation going into the vote as well. He said he took issue with the “expansion of the law.”

“This definitely wasn’t just about codifying Roe v. Wade,” Constantino said, adding that he doesn’t see the law getting overturned any time soon. “I don’t see it. I think it’s the law of the land, and I think you look at [U.S. Supreme Court Chief] Justice [John] Roberts and the way he’s been voting.”

Ucci agreed with Constantino’s assessment, saying that there could be more restrictions implemented but he doesn’t foresee Roe v. Wade being completely overturned.

“I’m a lawyer, but I’m not a constitutional lawyer,” Ucci said. “If you look at a law over the past, whether it was segregation laws or anything that was morphed, typically if things are viewed as illegal and then they become legal, really does it go back to being unconstitutional or not a constitutional issue.”

The matter will move to the Senate next, where Johnston is represented by Frank Lombardo, III (D-Dist. 25, Johnston) and Stephen R. Archambault (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston).

Rob Horowitz, a spokesman for Archambault, said the senator supports “codifying Roe v. Wade as currently interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

“Sen. Archambault support a woman’s right to choose, but is in the process of examining the particulars of this legislation,” Horowitz said Tuesday. “His test will be how far beyond that will this legislation go.”

Lombardo could not be reached for comment by press time.

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