Abortion in Rhode Island

Abortion in Rhode Island is legal. On June 19, 2019, the legal right to abortion was codified into Rhode Island law by passage of the Reproductive Privacy Act. 71% of Rhode Islanders were found to support passing a law to protect safe, legal abortion in an October, 2018 poll.

The number of abortion clinics in Rhode Island has fluctuated over the years, with five in 1982, six in 1992 and three in 2014.  There were 2,990 legal abortions in 2014, and 2,649 in 2015.


The abortion debate most commonly relates to the "induced abortion" of an embryo or fetus at some point in a pregnancy, which is also how the term is used in a legal sense. Some also use the term "elective abortion", which is used in relation to a claim to an unrestricted right of a woman to an abortion, whether or not she chooses to have one. The term elective abortion or voluntary abortion describes the interruption of pregnancy before viability at the request of the woman, but not for medical reasons.

Anti-abortion advocates tend to use terms such as "unborn baby", "unborn child", or "pre-born child", and see the medical terms "embryo", "zygote", and "fetus" as dehumanizing. Both "pro-choice" and "pro-life" are examples of terms labeled as political framing: they are terms which purposely try to define their philosophies in the best possible light, while by definition attempting to describe their opposition in the worst possible light. "Pro-choice" implies that the alternative viewpoint is "anti-choice", while "pro-life" implies the alternative viewpoint is "pro-death" or "anti-life". The Associated Press encourages journalists to use the terms "abortion rights" and "anti-abortion".


Free birth control correlates to teenage girls having a fewer pregnancies and fewer abortions. A 2014 New England Journal of Medicine study found such a link.  At the same time, a 2011 study by Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health also found that states with more abortion restrictions have higher rates of maternal death, higher rates of uninsured pregnant women, higher rates of infant and child deaths, higher rates of teen drug and alcohol abuse, and lower rates of cancer screening.

According to a 2017 report from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health, states that tried to pass additional constraints on a women's ability to access legal abortions had fewer policies supporting women's health, maternal health and children's health.  These states also tended to resist expanding Medicaid, family leave, medical leave, and sex education in public schools. According to Megan Donovan, a senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute, states have legislation seeking to protect a woman's right to access abortion services have the lowest rates of infant mortality in the United States.
Poor women in the United States had problems paying for menstrual pads and tampons in 2018 and 2019. Almost two-third of American women could not pay for them. These were not available through the federal Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC). Lack of menstrual supplies has an economic impact on poor women.  A study in St. Louis found that 36% had to miss days of work because they lacked adequate menstrual hygiene supplies during their period.  This was on top of the fact that many had other menstrual issues including bleeding, cramps and other menstrual induced health issues. This state was one of a majority that taxed essential hygiene products like tampons and menstrual pads as of November 2018.


Legislative history

By the end of the 1800s, all states in the Union except Louisiana had therapeutic exceptions in their legislative bans on abortions. In the 19th century, bans by state legislatures on abortion were about protecting the life of the mother given the number of deaths caused by abortions; state governments saw themselves as looking out for the lives of their citizens.

The state was one of ten states in 2007 to have a customary informed consent provision for abortions. In 2013, state Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) law applied to medication induced abortions and private doctor offices in addition to abortion clinics.

As of May 14, 2019, the state prohibited abortions after the fetus was viable, considered to be 24 weeks. This period uses a standard defined by the US Supreme Court in 1973 with the Roe v. Wade ruling. Another provision was on the books banning abortion at 12 weeks but it was not enforceable by law. In May 2019, Rhode Island's Senate Judiciary Committee considered a bill that would have allowed the right to an abortion to be codified into state law before finally rejecting it.

On June 19, 2019, both the Rhode Island Senate and the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed the [ Reproductive Privacy Act]. The House voted [ 45-29] and the Senate voted [ 21-17]. Governor Raimondo signed the legislation the same night.

On August 27, 2019, a motion was filed in Superior Court which alleges the Reproductive Privacy Act violated Article I, Section 2 of the Rhode Island Constitution. These allegations are premised on Plaintiffs’ argument that Article I, Section2 prohibits the General Assembly from passing any law that would grant or secure any rights relating to abortion or the funding thereof.

Judicial history

[[File:Map of US abortion laws pre-1973.svg|thumb|250px|right|Abortion laws in the U.S. before the 1973 Roe v. Wade ]] Before the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade decriminalized abortion nationwide in 1973, abortion was already legal in several states, but the decision imposed a uniform framework for state legislation on the subject. It established a minimal period during which abortion is legal (with more or fewer restrictions throughout the pregnancy). That basic framework, modified in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), remains nominally in place, although the effective availability of abortion varies significantly from state to state, as many counties have no abortion providers. Planned Parenthood v. Casey held that a law cannot place legal restrictions imposing an undue burden for "the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus."

Clinic history

Between 1982 and 1992, the number of abortion clinics in the state increased by one, going from five in 1982 to 6 in 1992. In 2014, there were three abortion clinics in the state. In 2014, 80% of the counties in the state did not have an abortion clinic. That year, 36% of women in the state aged 15 – 44 lived in a county without an abortion clinic. In 2017, there was one Planned Parenthood clinics in a state with a population of 246,389 women aged 15 – 49 of which one offered abortion services.


In the period between 1972 and 1974, there was only 0 recorded illegal abortion death in the state. In 1990, 137,000 women in the state faced the risk of an unintended pregnancy. In 2010, the state had 0 publicly funded abortions. In 2014, 63% of adults said in a poll by the Pew Research Center that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. In 2017, the state had an infant mortality rate of 6.2 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Abortion rights views and activities


Women from the state participated in marches supporting abortion rights as part of a #StoptheBans movement in May 2019.