Former Rhode Island first lady Marguerite Garrahy stood outside the closed doors to the Senate chambers Tuesday afternoon.
Two people were on their knees praying, while another dozen talked over the chants of pro-lifers – who appeared to outnumber the pro-choice advocates, three to one – echoing from the State House rotunda.
Barely 20 feet away stood Cranston Sen. Hanna Gallo with her cell phone. She was taking pictures and video of what has become one of the most sustained and vocal campaigns by opposing sides on an issue in the memory of legislators, lobbyists and Capitol and State Police.
Gallo, a Catholic, was prepared to vote in favor of a revised Reproductive Privacy Act aimed at codifying the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade giving women the right to abort a fetus.
“I think this is much better,” Gallo said of the revised bill.
The original bill approved by the House failed to make it through the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, but with revisions, Sen. Stephen Archambault was expected to favor the bill, thereby bringing it before the full senate for a vote.
Gallo fears what would happen if federal law changed. She wants her rights protected.
“A woman chooses what she needs to do. Where does it stop [if that choice is taken away]? Will it be [women] can’t own property?” she said.
Garrahy sees it differently.
“I’m here to support pro-life,” she said. “What is right, to choose to kill or not to kill?”
Those are the positions in a nutshell.
But as Garrahy noted before the Senate Judiciary Committee convened, things aren’t always as simple. Asked what issues she had with a revised bill – which supporters claim does nothing more or less than enshrine what rights women have today – Garrahy replied, “Lawyers know how to make things so that they are totally unclear.”
What became clear soon after the Judiciary Committee convened is that Democrats weren’t about to let Republicans decide the outcome in what Senate President Dominick Ruggerio called “an unprecedented last minute political stunt to torpedo this bill.” In a highly unusual maneuver, Republican leaders Sens. Elaine Morgan and Dennis Algiere were reportedly prepared to vote against the revised bill as ex officio members.
It didn’t come to a vote.
Over Morgan’s protests, Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Sen. Erin Lynch Prata transferred the bill to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, which is believed to have the votes for passage. The committee is expected to hear the bill this evening.
The action added insult to injury for the pro-life advocates who already feel lawmakers are ignoring the will of the people and justifying their positions with faulty polls. Garrahy and those with her, including Nancy and Kevin McDevitt of Warwick, said polls show that almost 74 percent of Rhode Islanders believe that abortion should not be legal up until birth. The poll was done by Cygnal and commissioned by the recently formed Citizens for Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, an organization formed by Rhode Islanders.
“It is extremely sad that life is not valued,” Diane Constantino said.
Barth Bracy, a pro-life lobbyist and executive director of RI’s Right to Life organization, criticized the tactic to hand the bill off to a committee that is expected to approve it, thereby bringing the measure before the Senate.
“We play by the rules,” he said of pro-lifers and their demonstrations. He said those favoring the pro-choice position have harassed and stalked legislators. He said transferring the revised bill in the face of the possibility that the votes of ex officio members would kill it “makes a sham of democracy.”
Bracy believes there’s no justification to reasoning that Roe v. Wade is at risk of being overturned. He called the Rhode Island bill an effort on the part of Democrats “to placate” progressive members of the party and said their actions will “bite them in the ass in 2020.”
“The major media outlets and politicians have been silencing the vast majority of Rhode Islanders who oppose this bill. I cannot understand how our legislators can vote for a bill which is so blatantly contrary to the will of the people of RI,” Diane Constantino wrote in a follow up email.
She added that the transfer of the bill “makes it obvious that they are manipulating the system to get what they want and not what the people want.”