Hundreds of protesters on both sides of the abortion rights issue clogged the entrance of the Rhode Island State House in Providence, as they waited silently to get inside and out of the cold. They waited to testify in front of the State House Judiciary Committee to discuss passing a set of bills on to the House floor for voting. These bills would codify in Rhode Island state law the protections of women’s reproductive health afforded by the 1973 Supreme Court Decision of Roe v. Wade.
Inside, however, the atmosphere changed. The once peaceful protesters are chanting back and forth across the aisle. “They are selling dead baby parts on the black market! Educate yourself!” A pro-lifer yells into my face. This is the spirit of democracy. The ability to speak your beliefs, regardless of volume.
None of the few pro-choice protesters at the entrance were as loud as the pro-lifers. The pro-lifers simply monopolized that space, they got their early and got the best real estate.
The pro-choicers seemed content to simply wait for a pro-choice witness to testify, then they talk and laugh, much to the chagrin of the pro-lifers trying to listen. This is democracy in action.
URI sophomore, Capri Catanzara has gone through this before. She has testified many times before on behalf of HB H-5127, also known as the Reproductive Health Care Act.
“We must ensure that motherhood is a conscious choice,” Catanzara says, she went on to make the case that “Carrying a pregnancy to term and raising a child is a financial strain on women,” she adds, “[it is] nothing short of a financial nightmare.”
Catanzara put me in touch with Caroline Morgan, a volunteer lobbyist for the Womxn Project. The website describes the organization as “ A non-profit organization in Rhode Island focused on building a strong, feminist, community-based movement to further human rights of Rhode Islanders by using art and activism to advance education and social change.”
“I believe a woman should have body autonomy and should make those decisions for herself, it don’t make a damn bit of difference what anybody else thinks,” Morgan said. “If I want an abortion I’m gonna get one.”
But to some it’s not a question of women’s freedom, “it’s an issue of abuse of women.” I spoke with John Lucas, a pro-life protester. “[Women] suffer for the rest of their lives after abortions,” Lucas says, speaking with a sense of authority on the issue that only a person literally incapable of experiencing an abortion can have.
Several women did come forward to testify that having an abortion in their younger years did ruin their lives. But more came out about how getting an abortion saved their lives. Or their friends’ lives. Or even how illegal abortions, before the passing of “Roe V. Wade” could be lethal. The only thing that made them safer was their legalization.
One witness testified with a story of a woman, “I support The Reproductive Health Care Act because there was once a fourteen-year-old girl, who after being taken to an uninhabited island in the bay, was raped,” she said, “[she] threw herself against a sharp-cornered table, over and over for days, until bruises appeared on her abdomen and she felt sick. She didn’t want to be pregnant.”
She did not choose to have sex with this man, she was raped, she didn’t make a stupid choice. Yet, because safe legal abortions didn’t exist, she still had to live with the consequences.