Innovation Ecosystem

Together, they moved political mountains

An interview with Jocelyn Foye, director of The Womxn Project, talking about the successful strategy to enact the EACA

Photo by The Womxn Project Twitter feed

The tally of the R.I. Senate voting to approve the EACA on Thursday, May 18.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 5/22/23
Led in large part by the advocacy efforts of The Womxn Project, Rhode Island enacted the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act last week.
How will the efforts by The Womxn Project translate into electoral politics in Rhode Island in 2024? What is the status of the state's plans to renew the Managed Care Organization contract under Medicaid, and when will the General Assembly authorize an independent audit of the current MCOs? Will David Cicilline, as the new leader of the Rhode Island Foundation, champion raising Medicaid provider reimbursement rates in Rhode Island? Will high school health clinics in Rhode Island provide access to low-cost birth control for teenage women?
About one in every four pregnancies in the U.S. ends in a miscarriage, yet that data fact continues to elude the discussions around Republican legislative attempts to control a woman’s reproductive health. Without an ability to talk about miscarriages as common phenomena, health care remains all too often in the dark about reproductive health.
The question to ask is: What can men do to further the discussions around miscarriages?

PROVIDENCE – Last week was certainly “that was the week that was.” It marked a sea change of political consciousness in Rhode Island, where advocacy for diversity and women’s health were championed and emerged as victors. Convergence triumphed. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Convergence, not silos.”]

• The breakfast celebration of the 2023 Factbook release by Rhode Island Kids Count provided the philosophical launch, championing diversity.

• The votes, first in committee, then by the entire R.I. Senate, to approve the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, with the Governor signing it into law, testified to the emergence of a new political reality in Rhode Island.

• The Rhode Island Foundation annual meeting marked the transition in leadership from Neil Steinberg to David Cicilline. More than 900 attended the gala at the Convention Center. But for all the numbers about wealth and money invoked – an endowment of more than $1.3 billion, $84 million in grants distributed in 2022, and $20 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds distributed at the behest of the R.I. General Assembly – the one number not mentioned may prove to be the most significant data point: more than one-third of all Rhode Islanders, some 365,000 residents, as of March of 2023, were receiving Medicaid as their health insurance coverage.

Translated, Medicaid serves as a lifeline for what has emerged as a permanent underclass of impoverished Rhode Islanders. Until the low Medicaid rates for health care providers are raised, the challenges facing Rhode Island – what Steinberg called “brutally simple to identify and very difficult to solve,” and how “social and economic will needs to overcome the political will,” as quoted by a Boston Globe reporter – will remain. Steinberg and Cicilline – and the news media – simply need to do their job.

• The 25th birthday party for EpiVax, the pioneering biotech firm that operates on the cutting edge of immunology and vaccine development, coincided with legislation announced by House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi to create a new quasi-public body to champion a Life Sciences hub in Rhode Island, with $48 million in state funds.

EpiVax embodies the future of biotech in Rhode Island, not investments in commercial real estate.

More than money in the bank
The official news release put out by the Rhode Island legislative service detailing what happened with the passage of the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act was remarkable for many reasons.

By recognizing the prominent roles that were played by community advocates and, in particular, the advocacy of Jocelyn Foye, the “director of The Womxn Project and organizer with the statewide Campaign for Equal Abortion Coverage,” the news release offered an historic proof positive how the political reality has shifted in Rhode Island.

“We don’t want to live in a community where the money you have in the bank determines if you get to have an abortion when you need one [emphasis added],” Foye said, quoted in the news release. “We are so grateful that in Rhode Island, no matter what kind of insurance someone uses, that after tonight, they will get to control their own body and plan their families and their futures.”

Foye continued: “We are proud to lead the Campaign for Equal Abortion Coverage and grateful to every partner, every lawmaker and every activist who worked with us to get rid of harmful bans on abortion coverage.”

ConvergenceRI asked Foye to reflect on the successful messaging and advocacy behind the campaign to enact the new law. Here is the ConvergenceRI interview with Jocelyn Foye, the director of The Womxn Project, which hopefully will create historical record of what occurred – and why.

ConvergenceRI: Why was your advocacy campaign and messaging successful?
FOYE: Part of the reason we were successful is because equal access to abortion has a lot of support in the state. When the RPA [Reproductive Privacy Act] was passed in 2019, we immediately discussed with our partners our next campaign, and they identified this insurance issue as a huge barrier to access and asked us to address it.

Another reason for our success is our focus on artivism – activism through art. Rallying community members around an issue that's important to them and giving them the opportunity for self-expression around that issue is not only fun and healing, but motivating.

Combining creativity with the necessary procedural aspects of moving a bill forward is exciting, interesting and engaging for our volunteers and community members.

We also educate our community about the issues and how we’re approaching them. The more people know about an issue and how it affects them and their friends and family, the more they can take ownership of that issue and help move the campaign forward.

ConvergenceRI: How will this legislation reshape the health landscape in Rhode Island?
FOYE: Unfortunately, there are a lot of -isms baked into our institutions, and health care as an institution is not immune. But the EACA takes a giant leap toward health justice by eliminating one barrier that largely affected Black or brown people with low income.

Implementation of the EACA will keep people from having to make the impossible choice between paying the exorbitant out-of-pocket cost of an abortion or paying several household bills. It will give them the mental space and financial freedom to make the choices that best serve them.

People should be treated with dignity simply because they are human. They should be trusted to make private decisions that put them on the path to the future of their choosing. Unfortunately, laws are sometimes put into place that make treating people with dignity impossible. And those laws must be ruthlessly eliminated.

ConvergenceRI: What do you see as the next challenges in Rhode Island politics when it comes to access? Will it be about equal access to birth control?
FOYE: Protecting access to low-cost or no-cost birth control is huge, as is protecting access to medical abortions. We’re also continuing to fight against fake clinics, which masquerade as information providers, but actually deliver propaganda.

Youth access is an issue that's always on our radar. The RPA says that minors have the right to abortion with permission of a legal guardian, but minors whose parents can’t take care of them often live with grandparents who don't have legal guardianship. What happens to those minors if they need an abortion but can't contact their parents?

And, health care deserts are another big issue. All of Rhode Island’s abortion providers are in Providence. A person of low-income who needs an abortion but lives in Newport could have an arduous time accessing needed health care. They might have to take a day off work and lose wages or navigate a lengthy commute via public transportation if they don't have a car.

ConvergenceRI: What are the lessons learned?
FOYE: When a large coalition of smart and passionate community groups and individuals has strong, consistent, patient leadership, together they can move mountains.

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