Rhode Island Gov Sued for Funding Abortions in Obamacare

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 21, 2012   |   10:49PM   |   Washington, DC

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an abortion advocate, faces a lawsuit from pro-life organizations upset that he overstepped his authority and circumvented the state legislature to create a health exchange for ObamaCare that funds elective abortions contrary to state law.

When concerns about taxpayer-subsidized abortion coverage prevented the General Assembly from reaching agreement on an exchange last year, Chafee unilaterally created one himself without including the traditional restrictions on abortion subsidies.

The Alliance Defense Fund and Rhode Island Right to Life have filed suit against Chafee and the complaint they filed Tuesday explains that the power to create the exchange, a set of state approved and regulated insurance plans eligible for federal subsidies, lies solely with the people through their representatives in the General Assembly. ADF attorneys are co-counsel together with lead attorney Joe Larisa in representing Rhode Island Right to Life and 38 state legislators.

“No one should force Rhode Islanders to subsidize other people’s abortions under the guise of health care reform, especially through illegitimate, extra-constitutional methods,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox. “The responsibility to define and create these exchanges lies solely with the people through the General Assembly. The governor cannot circumvent state lawmakers simply because the majority of them want to maintain longstanding prohibitions against the use of taxpayer dollars for elective abortions.”

“It is a fundamental principle of both American and Rhode Island constitutional law that the legislature enacts the laws and the governor executes them,” Larisa explained. “Until this order, no other governor has attempted to create a health care exchange without the legislature’s approval. Gov. Chafee is brazenly attempting to evade the state constitution and members of the General Assembly, each of whom has the constitutional right to vote on how any exchange should be created, managed, and limited.”

Rhode Island Right to Life originally filed its lawsuit, Rhode Island State Right to Life Committee v. Chafee, in Rhode Island Superior Court on Dec. 1 of last year after Chafee issued an executive order to create the exchange unilaterally.
One-third of the General Assembly members are now challenging the constitutionality of Chafee’s September 19, 2011, executive order, which purports to establish a Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange and board to govern it even though the General Assembly rejected legislation creating the Exchange last year.

As Rhode Island Right to Life executive director Barth Bracy explains, the Rhode Island Senate passed a Health Benefits Exchange Act — a key component of the national health care reform law — last April 5 on a vote of 31-6. Chafee and other powerful officials opposed the Act for the sole reason that it included language that — consistent with longstanding state and federal law –prohibits government funds from being used to purchase health insurance plans that provide coverage for elective abortion.

Subsequently, the Rhode Island House of Representatives failed to act on the Senate bill and failed even to act on its own version of the bill, which did not contain any abortion-funding prohibition.

Notably, the Senate and House versions of the Act both recognized, in their very first lines, that: “Statutory changes to Rhode Island law are necessary in order to establish an American health benefit exchange in Rhode Island and its administrative authority…”

RIRTL lawyer Larisa explains how the “executive order we are challenging purports to comply with the federal health care law by giving the exchange extraordinary power to meet its requirements, including entering into contracts and receiving and spending tens of millions of dollars of government and private money.”

He added, “Its grant of both executive and legislative power absent legislation  violates Rhode Island’s separation of powers constitutional mandate. It disenfranchises members of the General Assembly, each of whom has the constitutional right to vote on whether and how any exchange should be created, and the power and limits thereon. The question is not whether Rhode Island can create an exchange — it most surely can — the question is whether the Governor or the General Assembly possess the power to create this powerful State entity and determine its governance. The Constitution places that power squarely in the hands of the General Assembly.”

RIRTL Executive Director Barth E. Bracy called on the House to “end the controversy and pass the Senate bill pending in the House.”

That bill maintains longstanding federal and state prohibitions against public funding for elective abortion. 

Bracy continued, “One-third of the General Assembly has openly joined our legal challenge, demanding their constitutional right to vote on the creation and powers of the health benefits exchange. Together, we stand against Governor Chafee’s extra-constitutional attempt to force Rhode Islanders to subsidize other people’s abortions under the guise of health care reform.”