Will New Poll Recast RI State House Battle on Abortion

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


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Speaker Nick Mattiello

A new poll released on Tuesday has shaken up the battle at the Rhode Island State House over abortion rights.

The poll found that "an overwhelming majority of Rhode Islanders —73.8 percent — believe that abortion should not be legal up until birth.”  The poll, which was conducted by the firm Cygnal which sampled 700 Rhode Island residents via phone -- both landline and mobile -- has a 3.7 percent margin of error.

The poll was commissioned by new group calling itself "Citizens for Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness" and set off a firestorm of responses from pro-choice advocacy groups that say the legislation they are pushing for -- the Reproductive Health Care Act of 2019 -- only seeks to codify Roe v. Wade.  Anti-choice groups say the legislation expands late term-abortions.

“This poll did not ask about the right to abortion.  It used inflammatory rhetoric and asked about a law that has already been settled at the federal level. We know that for decades polling done at the state and national level has consistently found strong majorities for supporting the right to abortion," said Jocelyn Foye and Jordan Hevenor, Co-Directors, The Womxn Project. "For decades, studies across the country and across demographics have found similar results.  Even if people would not personally decide to seek an abortion, they do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned and they believe that this is a personal decision.”

Latest in Debate in Rhode Island

The battle emerges during a rift between Democrats in the House in which anti-abortion Speaker Nick Mattiello controls the House and progressive legislators have split from the leadership. Many of the most active pro-choice legislators have been demoted in their committee assignments and lost their legislative office space.

Mattiello told GoLocal on Tuesday night, "From the feedback I am receiving, Rhode Islanders are overwhelmingly opposed to late-term abortions, whether or not they support Roe v. Wade. The view of the Rhode Island public has a significant bearing on the House of Representatives' consideration of any bill, including Rep. [Edith] Ajello's bill, that permits late-term abortions."

The Rhode Island battle rages under the shadow of a now overwhelmingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court that is scheduled to consider cases that could lead to repeal of Roe v. Wade. Recently, the U.S. Supreme court procedurally blocked a restrictive Louisianna law that would dramatically undercut Roe v. Wade, but court experts say that move by the court was temporary.

According to the group releasing the poll, Citizens for Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, they cite that, “An overwhelming majority of Rhode Islanders (63.9%) oppose second-trimester abortions in all situations.”

The group claims to be comprised and funded by Rhode Islanders but they have refused to release any names of the organizers. The press release was sent out in coordination with the Gaspee Project.  That group is a pro-small business, conservative political action group in Rhode Island. According to the most recent version of the Gaspee Projects 990 tax form, the group’s chair is Ellen Kenner.

Governor Raimondo refused to respond to questions about any restrictions on abortion rights. Her office said, "The Governor supports the RHCA, which maintains the status quo under Roe v. Wade as it has existed in Rhode Island for almost fifty years."

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Pro-choice Groups Blast Poll

Kelly Nevins, Executive Director of the Women’s Fund of RI, criticized the poll, “We question whether there may be bias in this new study based on who was called or the questions that were asked. Lawmakers should not interfere with how we build our families or the kind of health services that we need. Even if someone does not believe abortion is the right choice for themselves, a majority of people believe it is a personal decision that should make based on our own beliefs and circumstances with the support of trusted loved ones by our side and our physician.”

The Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom issued a statement on the poll, saying it "rejects claims by anti-choice activists which characterize the Reproductive Health Care Act of 2019 as 'extreme.' The Coalition also refutes the results of a recent poll paid for by ‘Citizens for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,’ an initiative led by the Gaspee Project. The questions asked in this poll are biased and misleading, and did not ask about maintaining the status-quo afforded under Roe v. Wade.”

"The recent results from a poll paid for by 'Citizens for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,' which is an arm the Gaspee Project are tendentious and disingenuous. The utilization of fear-inducing questions produces biases in interviews in a manner that is unjust," said Jennifer Rourke of the RI Progressive Democrats.

"The poll conducted in a fair and unbiased manner last fall showed that 71% of Rhode Islanders want to see a bill passed that will protect legal abortion in our state. A decision to have an abortion is a private, difficult conversation between a pregnant person and their doctor. Restricting a person's right to choose will only account for more unnecessary deaths because abortions will still occur. However, they will no longer be safe," added Rourke.


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