Rhode Island governor signs bill to cover abortions for state workers, Medicaid recipients

Rhode Island Gov. Daniel McKee on Thursday signed legislation to expand access to abortion in his state. Photo courtesy of Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee/Twitter
Rhode Island Gov. Daniel McKee on Thursday signed legislation to expand access to abortion in his state. Photo courtesy of Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee/Twitter

May 19 (UPI) -- Rhode Island Gov. Daniel McKee has signed legislation permitting state funds to cover abortions for state employees and Medicaid recipients.

The Democratic governor signed the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act into law Thursday, hours after the Rhode Island Senate passed the bill 24 to 12 and nearly a month after the state's House passed its version of the bill 49 to 24 on April 27.


Both branches of the state's government are Democratic controlled.

"Here in Rhode Island, we will always protect a woman's right to choose and ensure equal access to these crucial healthcare services," McKee said in a tweet that accompanied a picture of him signing the bill.

The act specifically eliminates sections of law that prohibited Rhode Island's Medicaid programs and health insurance plans for state employees from covering abortions unless the pregnancy caused life-threatening complications or was the result of rape or incest.


By removing the sections, the legislature adds Rhode Island to the list of 16 states where Medicaid programs cover abortion, according to a release on the act from the governor's office.

"It has been too long that those in Medicaid and the State Employee Health Plan have been denied access to abortion care," Nicole Jellinek, chair of the Rhode island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, said in a statement.

"As parts of the United States enact ever-stricter restrictions on abortion, here in Rhode Island we stand strongly with reproductive freedom, and will work tirelessly to make care available to all."

The measure was passed as several Democratic-led states have moved to protect abortion access within their borders as Republican-led states seek to ban and limit access to the medical procedure in theirs following the conservative-leaning Supreme Court's decision last summer that overturned the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling, which provided abortion with federal protections.

Supporters of the bill argued that since Medicaid is for low income people, including members of marginalized communities, it was discriminatory that they were not covered for the medical procedure.

Opponents, however, argued that taxpayer money shouldn't be used to fund abortions.

"Today's vote was an egregious overstep of state government," state Republican Sen. Jessica de la Cruz tweeted following the vote. "Those who voted 'no' stand for the taxpayer, religious freedom & conscientious objectors. Despite the increasing hostility towards these values, I will continue to fight for what is right, good & fair for the taxpayer."

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island cheered the bill's signing into law.

"This is a victory for reproductive rights and healthcare equity in Rhode Island, by ensuring that everyone can access critical healthcare -- esp. those who are least able to afford it," it said in a statement.

Latest Headlines