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Rhode Island

The principal pre-Roe statute prohibited the performance of an abortion on a woman unless the procedure was “necessary to preserve her life.”1  Pursuant to Roe, this statute was declared unconstitutional in a pair of unreported decisions by a three-judge federal district court,2 and was repealed in 1973.3  In response, Rhode Island reenacted the statute, adding a “conclusive presumption” that “human life commences at the instant of conception” and that said human life “is a person within the language and meaning of the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution of the United States.”4  This statute was declared unconstitutional by a federal district court in Doe v. Israel,5 but its enforcement was not enjoined.


In 1975, Rhode Island enacted a statute which prohibited performance of an abortion on a pregnant woman “with a quick child” unless “the same be necessary to preserve the life of such mother.”6  This statute was declared unconstitutional by a federal district court in Rodos v. Michaelson,7 but that judgment was later reversed by the court of appeals, which found that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the statute.8  Neither the 1973 statute nor the 1975 statute has been repealed.9  Assuming that the 1973 statute has not been repealed by implication with the enactment of the 1975 statute and other legislation regulating the practice of abortion, it would be enforceable if Roe v. Wade were overruled.


1 R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-3-1 (1956).

2 See Women of Rhode Island v. Israel, No. 4605 (D. R.I. Feb. 7, 1973); Rhode Island Abortion Counseling Service v. Israel, No. 4586 (D. R.I. Feb. 7, 1973).

3 1973 R.I. Pub. Laws 67, 68, ch. 15, § 1.

4 Id. 68-70, ch. 15, § 2.

5 358 F.Supp. 1193 (D. R.I. 1973), aff’d, 482 F.2d 156 (1st Cir. 1973) (dissolving stay and denying stay), cert. denied, 416 U.S. 993 (1974).

6 1975 R.I. Laws 624, ch. 231, § 1, codified at R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-23-5 (repl. vol. 1981).  The statute defined “quick with child” in terms of viability.  See § 11-23-5(c).

7 396 F.Supp. 768 (D. R.I. 1975).

8 527 F.2d 582 (1st Cir. 1975).

9 R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-3-1, 11-23-5 (2002).


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