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State Laws

Rhode Island


Political Information

Executive (Governor)

Mixed-choice

Senate

Anti-choice

House

Anti-choice

Abortion-Care Policies

Abortion Providers

Abortion Providers: Restrictions

Rhode Island imposes extra restrictions on abortion providers, despite the fact that all health-care providers already must comply with a variety of federal and state regulations governing health, safety, building and fire codes, and zoning requirements.  

Restrictions on Where Abortion Services May Be Provided

Rhode Island places medically unnecessary restrictions on where abortion services may be provided.

Any abortion providers-including private physicians-must comply with a uniquely imposed licensure scheme not required of other medical providers. R.I. Code R. 14 000 009.

Rhode Island requires that abortion services provided up to 14 weeks outside of a hospital have "hospital emergency back-up services" available.  For procedures between 15 and 18 weeks, the state requires they be provided in a hospital, a licensed freestanding ambulatory surgical center, a licensed physician’s "office operatory," or a freestanding surgical facility.  After the 18th week, abortion services must be provided in a hospital or ambulatory surgical center. R.I. Code R. 14 000 009, §§ 2.3 to 2.4.

Restrictions on Who May Provide Abortion Services

Rhode Island prohibits certain qualified health-care professionals from providing abortion services.

Only a physician licensed by the state to practice medicine or osteopathy may provide surgical abortion.  R.I. Code R. 14 000 009, § 1.4, 1.5, 5.1 (Enacted 1973; Last Amended 2000).


Abortion Providers: Expanded Access to Non-Surgical Abortion

Other licensed health-care practitioners acting within the scope of their practice may provide medication-abortion services.  R.I. Code R. 14 000 009, § 1.4, 1.5, 5.1 (Enacted 1973; Last Amended 2000).


Abortion Rights

Post-Viability Ban

Rhode Island’s post-viability abortion restriction states that no abortion may be performed on a "quick child," defined as "an unborn child whose heart is beating, who is experiencing electronically measurable brainwaves, who is discernibly moving, and who is so far developed and matured as to be capable of surviving the trauma of birth with the aid of usual medical care and facilities," unless necessary to preserve the woman’s life.  R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 11-23-5 (Enacted 1975).

NARAL Pro-Choice America supports the legal framework established in Roe v. Wade and does not oppose restrictions on post-viability abortion so long as they contain adequate exceptions to protect the woman’s life and health.  NARAL Pro-Choice America opposes Rhode Island’s post-viability abortion restriction because it does not contain an exception to protect the health of the woman.


Abortion Bans Throughout Pregnancy: Procedure Ban

Rhode Island has an unconstitutional and unenforceable ban that outlaws abortion procedures as early as 12 weeks.  R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. §§ 23-4.12-1 (Enacted 1997; Last Amended 1998), 23-4.12-2 (Enacted 1997), 23-4.12-3 (Enacted 1997), 23-4.12-4 (Enacted 1997), 23-4.12-5 (Enacted 1997; Last Amended 1998), 23-4.12-6 (Enacted 1997).

A court held that Rhode Island’s ban is unconstitutionally vague and has issued a permanent injunction prohibiting its enforcement. Rhode Island Med. Soc’y v. Whitehouse, 239 F.3d 104 (1st Cir. 2001).  The U.S. Supreme Court previously held that a similar ban that has no exception to protect a woman’s health and that bans more than one procedure places an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose and is unconstitutional.  Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000).

Rhode Island’s unconstitutional and unenforceable law makes any abortion procedure that falls within a broad definition a felony.  The law has an exception if an abortion is necessary to preserve the life of a woman endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, and no other medical procedure will suffice.  R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. §§ 23-4.12-1 (Enacted 1997; Last Amended 1998), 23-4.12-2 (Enacted 1997), 23-4.12-3 (Enacted 1997), 23-4.12-4 (Enacted 1997), 23-4.12-5 (Enacted 1997; Last Amended 1998), 23-4.12-6 (Enacted 1997).

There is also a Federal Abortion Ban, which applies nationwide regardless of state law.  The federal ban prohibits certain second-trimester abortion procedures and has no exception for a woman’s health.  In April 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban, making it the first time since Roe v. Wade that the court has upheld a ban on a previability abortion procedure.


Biased Counseling

Biased Counseling

A woman may not have an abortion until after a physician or physician’s agent informs her of the gestational age of the fetus and the nature of the proposed procedure and its material medical risks, and she signs a form that includes the statement:  "If you decide to carry your pregnancy to term but not to keep the child, you may be able to place the child with either a relative, or with another family through foster care or adoption." R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. §§ 23-4.7-2 to -4.7-5 (Enacted 1982).

With respect to a previous version of this law, a court held that the requirements that a woman be informed of the nature of an abortion and the gestational age of the fetus are constitutional. Women’s Med. Ctr. of Providence, Inc. v. Roberts, 530 F. Supp. 1136 (D.R.I. 1982).


Mandatory Delays

No state measure.

Insurance Coverage & Abortion

Prohibits Abortion Coverage in the State

Does Rhode Island prohibit statewide private insurance coverage of abortion services?

Yes.  Rhode Island has an unconstitutional and unenforceable law which provides that private health-insurance contracts, plans, or policies in the state may not include abortion coverage, with exceptions only to save a woman’s life or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.  Nothing in the law prohibits the purchase of abortion coverage through an optional rider for which an additional premium is paid.  However, insurers are not required to offer such riders and there is no evidence that such separate policies exist. (Even if they did exist, offering women the "option" to pay for separate abortion coverage is a false promise because no one plans for an unplanned pregnancy.)  R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 27-18-28 (Enacted 1983).

A court has permanently enjoined §27-18-28 as unconstitutional. Nat’l Educ. Ass’n of R.I. v. Garrahy, 598 F. Supp. 1374 (D.R.I. 1984), aff’d, 779 F.2d 790 (1st Cir. 1986).


Prohibits Abortion Coverage for Public Employees

Does Rhode Island expressly prohibit insurance plans for public employees from covering abortion services?

Yes.  Rhode Island has a partially unconstitutional and unenforceable law which provides that the state, including its cities and towns, may not include abortion coverage in any employee health-insurance contract, plan, or policy, with exceptions only to save a woman’s life or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.  Nothing in the law prohibits the purchase of abortion coverage through an optional rider for which an additional premium is paid.  However, insurers are not required to offer such riders and there is no evidence that such separate policies exist. (Even if they did exist, offering women the "option" to pay for separate abortion coverage is a false promise because no one plans for an unplanned pregnancy.) R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 36-12-2.1 (Enacted 1981).

A court held that §36-12-2.1 is unconstitutional and unenforceable as applied to municipal employees. Nat’l Educ. Ass’n of R.I. v. Garrahy, 598 F. Supp. 1374 (D.R.I. 1984), aff’d, 779 F.2d 790 (1st Cir. 1986).


Prohibits Abortion Coverage in the Insurance Exchange

Does Rhode Island prohibit plans in its state exchange from covering abortion services? No.  However, Rhode Island does require insurance companies participating in the state exchange to offer at least one plan in each "metal" (e.g., bronze, silver, etc…) that excludes abortion coverage, with exceptions to save a woman’s life, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. (If non-religious small businesses select coverage that excludes abortion, their employees may choose a different plan that includes abortion coverage but then must pay the difference in cost.) 2015 R.I. Pub. Laws 5900.


Supports Insurance Coverage of Contraception

Rhode Island law requires health-insurance plans that cover prescription medication to provide equitable coverage for contraception.

What is required?  If a health-insurance plan provides coverage for prescription medication, it must provide coverage for Food and Drug Administration-approved prescription contraception.

To which insurance plans does the law apply?  Individual or group health-insurance contracts, plans, or policies issued or renewed in the state, except certain limited benefit policies, that provide coverage for prescription medication.

Does the law contain a refusal clause, allowing certain employers and/or insurers to refuse to provide or pay for contraceptive coverage?  Yes.

To whom does the refusal clause apply?  Religious employers for whom prescription contraception is contrary to their bona fide religious tenets.

What does the refusal clause allow?  An insurer may issue a religious employer a health insurance contract, plan, or policy that excludes coverage for contraception.

Is this refusal clause overbroad, jeopardizing insurance coverage for contraception for women?  No.  The law appropriately defines the term "religious employer" as a tax-exempt church or association of churches or an elementary or secondary school controlled, operated, or principally supported by a church or an association of churches.  This definition is appropriately limited in scope, applying to religious entities but not broad-based entities that operate in the public sphere.

Does the law require the refusing entity to notify the persons affected?  Yes.  An employer exercising a refusal clause must provide written notice to prospective enrollees listing the contraceptive health-care services the employer refuses to cover.

Are there circumstances under which a refusal clause may not be exercised?  No.

Does the law provide a mechanism for women to obtain contraceptive coverage if their employer exercises a refusal clause?  No.

R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 27-18-57, -19-48, -20-43, -41-59 (Enacted 2000).


Low-Income Women & Abortion

Restricts Low-Income Women’s Access to Abortion

Rhode Island prohibits public funding of abortion for women eligible for state medical assistance for general health care unless the procedure is necessary to preserve the woman’s life or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.  R.I. Dep’t of Human Servs. Code of Rules, Medical Assistance, §0300.01 C(D)(1)(a) (Rev. June 2014), at http://www.eohhs.ri.gov/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/0300final72014.pdf; Rhode Island Dept. of Health & Human Services, Service Requiring Adherence to Federal Guidelines, at http://www.eohhs.ri.gov/ProvidersPartners/ProviderManualsGuidelines/MedicaidProviderManual/Physician/ServiceRequiringAdherenceToFederalGuidelines.aspx.

Rhode Island’s constitution has an invalid and unenforceable provision banning the use of public funds for abortion.  R.I. Const. art. I, § 2 (Enacted 1986).  This provision is in conflict with federal law.  Participating state medical assistance programs must meet the federal requirements for abortion coverage.  Federal law currently requires states participating in the Medicaid program to fund abortion in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest.


Young Women & Abortion

Parental Consent

Rhode Island law restricts young women’s access to abortion.

Is the law enforceable?  Yes.

Who is considered a minor?  A young woman under the age of 18 who is not married or emancipated.

What is required – parental consent or parental notice?  Consent.

Who must provide consent?  One parent.

Are there other trusted adults who may provide consent instead?  No.

What is the process for obtaining consent?  A young woman may not obtain an abortion unless one parent consents.

May the parental mandate be waived if a young woman is a victim of rape or incest?  No.

May the parental mandate be waived if a young woman is a victim of child abuse?  No.

May the parental mandate be waived if a young woman’s health is threatened?  Yes, in the case of "an emergency requiring immediate action."

May the parental mandate be waived under any other circumstances?  Yes, the young woman may try to obtain permission from a judge.

If a young woman must obtain permission from a judge, what is the process?  She must secure a court order stating either that she is mature and capable of informed consent or that an abortion is in her best interests.

Are there other significant requirements under the law?  No.

Has a court considered the constitutionality of this law?  No.


Family-Planning Policies

Insurance Coverage & Contraception

No state measure.

Low-Income Women & Contraception

Supports Low-Income Women’s Access to Contraception

Rhode Island provides increased access to reproductive-health-care services through a Section 1115 waiver.  As part of this waiver, the state is allowed to cover family-planning services under its Extended Family Planning (EFP) program component of the waiver for 24 months for women with incomes at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level who would lose Medicaid eligibility 60 days postpartum.  Additionally, enrollees must be (1) U.S. citizens or persons who meet the state’s defined immigration requirements and (2) Rhode Island residents.

Beneficiaries of family-planning coverage available through the waiver are not required to pay premiums, but must pay co-payments for covered services.

The waiver is set to expire Dec. 31, 2018.  

Rhode Island Comprehensive Demonstration, Project No. 11-W-00242/1, at http://www.medicaid.gov/Medicaid-CHIP-Program-Information/By-Topics/Waivers/1115/downloads/ri/ri-global-consumer-choice-compact-fs.pdf.


Emergency Contraception

No state measure.

Other Important Issues

Clinic Protections

No state measure.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers

No state measure.

Refusals & Guarantees

Refusals of Medical Care

ABORTION REFUSAL CLAUSE

Rhode Island allows certain individuals to refuse to provide abortion services.

To whom does the refusal clause apply? Physicians or other persons associated with, employed by, or on the staff of a health-care facility.

What does the refusal clause allow? Allows physicians or other persons associated with, employed by, or on the staff of a health-care facility, who object in writing on moral or religious grounds to a scheduled abortion, to refuse to participate in medical procedures that result in an abortion. The refusal to participate may not be a basis for civil liability, disciplinary action, or recriminatory action.

No physician or other licensed health-care practitioner acting within the scope of his or her practice may be compelled to provide, and no person shall be compelled to assist in, abortion services.

Must the refusal be in writing? Yes.

Does the law require the refusing entity to notify the persons affected? No.

Are there circumstances under which a refusal clause may not be exercised? No.

Does the law require the refusing individual or entity to provide medically and factually accurate information or provide a referral for abortion services? No.

Does the law provide a mechanism for women to otherwise obtain specific reproductive-health services, information, or referrals if an individual and/or entity exercises a refusal clause? No.

R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 23-17-11 (Enacted 1978; Last Amended 1979).

INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR CONTRACEPTION REFUSAL CLAUSE

Although Rhode Island law requires health-insurance plans that cover prescription medication to provide equitable coverage for contraception, certain employers may require that their plans exclude coverage for contraception.

To whom does the refusal clause apply? Religious employers for whom prescription contraceptive methods are contrary to their bona fide religious tenets.

What does the refusal clause allow? An insurer may issue a religious employer a health-insurance contract, plan, or policy that excludes coverage for contraception.

Is this refusal clause overbroad, jeopardizing insurance coverage for contraception for women? Yes. The law defines the term "religious employer" as a "church or a qualified church-controlled organization" as defined by federal law. This exemption allows a broad range of organizations engaged in secular activities, some of which may receive government funding, to deny women necessary services based on religious doctrine.

Does the law require the refusing entity to notify the persons affected? Yes. An employer exercising a refusal clause must provide written notice to prospective enrollees listing the contraceptive health-care services the employer refuses to cover.

Are there circumstances under which a refusal clause may not be exercised? No.

Does the law provide a mechanism for women to obtain contraceptive coverage if their employer exercises a refusal clause? No.

R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 27-18-57, -19-48, -20-43, -41-59 (Enacted 2000; Last Amended 2002).

STERILIZATION REFUSAL CLAUSE

Rhode Island allows certain individuals to refuse to provide or participate in sterilization services.

To whom does the refusal clause apply? Physicians or other persons associated with, employed by, or on the staff of a health-care facility.

What does the refusal clause allow? Allows physicians or other persons associated with, employed by, or on the staff of a health-care facility, who object in writing on moral or religious grounds to a scheduled sterilization, to refuse to participate in medical procedures that result in a sterilization. The refusal to participate may not be a basis for civil liability, disciplinary action, or recriminatory action.

Must the refusal be in writing? Yes.

Does the law require the refusing entity to notify the persons affected? No.

Are there circumstances under which a refusal clause may not be exercised? No.

Does the law require the refusing individual or entity to provide medically and factually accurate information or provide a referral for abortion services? No.

Does the law provide a mechanism for women to otherwise obtain specific reproductive-health services, information, or referrals if an individual and/or entity exercises a refusal clause? No.

R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 23-17-11 (Enacted 1978; Last Amended 1979).


Counseling & Referral Bans

No state measure.

Everyone should be able to decide if, when, how, and with whom they start or grow a family.

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