PROVIDENCE – With abortion rights guaranteed to be a debate point for state legislators again in 2023, a newly released poll indicates widespread support for removing the barriers to health-insurance coverage that remain in Rhode Island law.
Here’s what a poll conducted for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its Southern New England affiliate found in a survey from Aug. 5-11 of 603 registered Rhode Island voters:
• 72% believe that Rhode Islanders with health insurance through Medicaid or the state “should receive the same coverage for abortion services as those insured by private health insurers.”
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• Two-thirds of those surveyed support the repeal of the state’s restrictions on abortion coverage for state employees and Medicaid recipients.
The question: “Rhode Island state legislators are considering the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, or EACA, which will provide coverage for abortion in the state’s Medicaid program and will remove bans on abortion coverage for state employees.
“Do you support or oppose this legislation?”
The finding: 66% of those surveyed support passage of the proposed law, 28% were somewhat or strongly opposed and 5% refused to answer or said they didn’t know.
“This polling sends a clear message that the majority of Rhode Island voters believe that medical decisions should be private and made between a person and their health care provider – not by politicians,” according to the sponsors of the poll conducted by Impact Research.
The survey also tested responses to some of the more frequently heard arguments for and against passage of the “Equality in Abortion Coverage Act,” which was introduced in the 2022 legislative session but did not get a vote before the curtain came down in June.
From one side:
“Supporters of the EACA say that no one should be denied coverage for abortion because of who they are, where they work or how much money they make. The EACA will help ensure that all Rhode Island women are able to make the decisions that are best for them without political interference.”
From the other side:
“Opponents of the EACA say that it would require Rhode Island taxpayers to pay for abortion, even those who don’t believe in it. Regardless of whether you support the right to an abortion or not, we shouldn’t use taxpayer dollars to pay for them.”
The question: “After this information, do you support or oppose the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act?”
The response: 65% signaled support for the legislation and 31% were opposed, with only a handful declining to answer.
It is not clear if the findings will affect what happens when state lawmakers convene the 2023 session in January – or voter choices in the elections ahead.
But chances of passage appear better in the House, where Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi said in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade reversal that he was “disheartened” by the ruling and glad the principles of Roe v. Wade were codified into state statute in 2019 “so the women of Rhode Island continue to be able to make the personal decision to access safe and legal abortion.
“The results of the poll support my commitment to ensuring the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act will be given strong consideration in the next legislative session,” Shekarchi said last week.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who voted against the 2019 abortion-rights legislation, told The Journal: “We plan to address this issue in the 2023 session. “
There was no immediate response from Barth Bracy, lead lobbyist for the R.I. Right to Life Committee, to the top-line findings of the Planned Parenthood poll. But others active in the anti-abortion fight have repeatedly said they believe Rhode Island’s current law – allowing coverage in cases of rape, incest and extreme medical necessity – goes far enough.
The “EACA” bill introduced in the House this year by Barrington Democrat Liana Cassar faced strong opposition from some quarters.
In a letter to lawmakers in the most Catholic state in the nation, the Rhode Island Catholic Conference argued against the “use [of] taxpayer dollars for the objectionable practice of abortion, which ends the life of an unborn human being.”
“We advocate the R.I. General Assembly instead direct the expenditure of these monies toward producing healthy birth outcomes and providing income security to decrease the perceived need for abortions.”
But Gov. Dan McKee has publicly voiced his support for the legislation, as have his Democratic primary challengers.
“The governor has been in full support of the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, legislation that is currently pending before the General Assembly. He urges the General Assembly to pass this bill and send it to his desk for signature,” a spokeswoman said while the legislature was still in session.
The poll results were released little more than a week before Rhode Island voters go to the polls to choose the Republican and Democratic nominees for federal, state and local offices from the state’s 2nd Congressional District seat to the governor on down.
The Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island PAC has endorsed 73 legislative candidates so far – 26 in the Senate and 47 in the House – “who will fight for reproductive health and rights and work to expand access to abortion.”
The list includes the top three in the House – Shekarchi, Majority Leader Christopher Blazejewski and Majority Whip Katherine Kazarian.
It also includes a handful of committee chairs in the Senate, but not Ruggerio, who is facing a challenge from the left by Lenny Cioe, who came within striking distance two years ago and has the PPV!RI endorsement.
The polling firm commissioned by Planned Parenthood counts among its past or present clients: President Joe Biden, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the ACLU, Americans for Gun Safety, Emily’s List and other liberal/progressive advocacy groups.
According to a detailed summary: 52% of those surveyed were women and 47% men, 81% were “white or caucasian,” 33% were Catholic, and 49% said they voted for Biden and 31% for Trump in 2020.
As for the political makeup of the survey pool: 49% described themselves as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents, 31% as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents and 15% as independents.
Amanda Skinner, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, issued this statement: “The data are clear – Rhode Islanders trust women – our family members, our neighbors, our friends – to make the decisions that are best for them without political interference.
“Politicians should not be able to deny coverage for health care services that they object to. Period.”