Last November, when Governor Lincoln Chafee named Richard Licht as his “deputy governor,” pundits spoke of an alliance between former political rivals. And in January, Chafee confirmed that the alliance was conceived during a conversation they had at a 2010 NARAL event in Washington. NARAL is a powerful national lobby for the abortion industry. Chafee sits on their board, and Licht is their national chairman.
It may be debated whether Licht, regarded as a shrewd insider who knows how to get things done, has enjoyed much success helping Chafee attain his legislative goals. But on the issue that occasioned their alliance — abortion — they have made unrivaled progress.
The audacity of Chafee-Licht may end up surpassing that of President Obama. While his health care plan had to pass through Congress, they are presently attempting an end-run around the General Assembly.
But if the Chafee-Licht team succeeds, it is because they were able to recruit into their alliance not only Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, an easy and early ally, but, especially, Speaker of the House Gordon Fox. And the Rhode Island State Right to Life Committee believes that Fox must be held accountable for “giving away the House” to Chafee-Licht-NARAL.
You see, one of the top priorities of the abortion industry for over 30 years has been to defeat prohibitions against public subsidies for elective abortion. They are not satisfied with abortion being legal, they want you to pay for it!
The restructuring of our national health care system presented the abortion industry their greatest opportunity ever. Who can forget the nearly year-long battle over the Stupak amendment? A battle the abortion industry ultimately won.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) represented a radical break from longstanding federal policy prohibiting public subsidies for elective abortion. But Congress begrudgingly conceded that individual states could mitigate at least some of the damage if the legislature acted to “opt-out of abortion coverage” on the insurance marketplace, or exchange, each state is invited to create.
Here in Rhode Island, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed prudently availed of this Congressional provision and extended longstanding state prohibitions to the proposed state exchange, thereby maintaining the status quo on abortion funding even while creating a new government program. The Senate passed Paiva Weed’s Health Benefits Exchange Act on April 5 on a vote of 31-6.
As one might expect of a NARAL board member, Chafee went on the offensive, calling upon the House to remove the abortion-funding prohibition, and entrusting the matter to his chief lobbyist and point man on health care reform, NARAL national chairman Richard Licht.
Rhode Island Right to Life was also at work. We had already begun educating state legislators last November, and we now began a full court press in the House. Speaker Fox soon became aware that the majority of his chamber supported the abortion-funding prohibition in the Senate bill and that few legislators would cast a vote requiring their pro-life constituents to subsidize other people’s abortions.
Would Fox blink and allow the will of the majority to prevail over his personal pro-abortion ideology? With less than 48 hours before recess, Fox’s people reached out to us for negotiations. Sadly, after four hours it was clear that he was not interested in compromise but, rather, in a deceptively crafted capitulation.
When the General Assembly recessed at 1:15 a.m. on Friday, July 1, many were surprised that Fox had refused a vote, and had thus apparently “killed” such an historic piece of legislation, foregoing tens of millions of federal dollars.
The first official hint of a “fix” came less than 12 hours later in an email from the office of Lt. Gov. Roberts. And on July 7, an 8-page memorandum emerged, detailing three options by which Chafee could attempt to bypass the General Assembly and establish a health benefits exchange by executive order.
The initial reaction of some political observers has been that the scheme will not work since, in Rhode Island, such extensive projects can only be initiated by the Assembly, not by the Governor. It remains to be seen whether they are correct and, if they are not, whether the case might set a precedent for expanding executive power at the expense of the legislature. But what of the fix?
Historically, in Rhode Island, the power of the General Assembly eclipses that of the Governor. The Speaker of the House is traditionally regarded as more powerful than the Governor, and the two are sometimes seen as rivals.
The Rhode Island State Right to Life Committee believes that Fox became party to the NARAL-inspired Chafee-Licht alliance and, remarkably, acted as a coconspirator in a fix to bypass his own branch of government! It is our belief that Fox killed the health benefits exchange bill(s) in order to create the situation for the governor to assume powers traditionally belonging to the Assembly and, thereby, to prevent language prohibiting public subsidies for elective abortion.
If we are correct, Gordon Fox may be remembered for more than his unwavering commitment to abortion. He may also be remembered as the Speaker who gave away the House.
LifeNews.com Note: Barth E. Bracy is executive director of the Rhode Island State Right to Life Committee.