Rhode Island Passes Bill to Safeguard Access to Essential Care

Health Care Provider Shield Act limits risk of hostile out-of-state laws banning abortion, transgender health care

June 13, 2024 (PROVIDENCE) – Health care providers and advocates for health care access, reproductive health, and LGBTQ+ equality praised the RI Legislature’s final passage today of the “Health Care Provider Shield Act,” (S2262 Sub B, HB757 Sub A), which will protect the state’s health care system, doctors, other medical care providers, and patients from hostile out-of-state laws that could negatively impact delivery of care. The bill now awaits action by Gov. Dan McKee. 

Sponsored by Senator Dawn Euer and Representative John G. Edwards, the Health Care Provider Shield Act will mitigate the risk that  Rhode Island health care providers could be penalized under the laws of other states that have banned access to established, standard-of-care reproductive and transgender health care, and will ensure that patients can continue to receive quality, legal, essential medical care in Rhode Island. 

“It’s wonderful to see the support of our legislature for this bill, which enables family doctors, OBGYNs, and other practitioners in Rhode Island to continue delivering high quality, essential care to our patients—including full-spectrum reproductive services and gender-affirming health care. The Health Care Provider Shield Act will protect our providers against actions from other states and allow us to deliver the standard of care and excellence that our patients deserve,” said Dr. Heather A Smith, RI Medical Society President and OBGYN. “We’re grateful to Senator Euer and Representative Edwards for their leadership on this legislation and working to ensure Rhode Island remains a state where clinicians want to practice, and where they can continue to provide our patients with quality, compassionate, and essential care when they need it.”

As multiple states have passed bans on abortion and transgender health care in recent years, authorities in some states, such as Texas, have also sought to intimidate or otherwise punish physicians or facilities in states who provide such essential care to their residents. Due to increasing threats, both Maine and Maryland moved swiftly to enact such laws in the last six months. At least 11 additional states and the District of Columbia have enacted health care shield laws to protect providers and patients and ensure their states remain desirable places to practice medicine. Four other New England states — including the neighboring states of Connecticut and Massachusetts, have similar shield laws to protect providers and access to care. 

“This is an important step toward securing critically needed safeguards for Rhode Island’s health care system. We’re heartened to see the legislature take urgently needed action this session to pass the Health Care Provider Shield Act,” said Polly Crozier, Attorney at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. “Rhode Island has a strong public policy commitment to protecting access to health care, including reproductive and transgender health care. The Health Care Provider Shield Act aims to protect Rhode Island providers and patients from unwarranted out-of-state intrusion into medical decision making and ensure clinicians can continue to practice in line with the professional standards of care. Thank you to Senator Euer and Representative Edwards for successfully shepherding this bill through the legislative process.”

“Decisions about essential health care should be made by patients, their families, and their trusted care providers, not politicians. I’m grateful to my colleagues for taking this necessary next step to protect access to legal, standard-of-care health care for all who need it, along with the providers who deliver that care,” said Senator Euer. “I am proud and relieved, frankly, that the Health Care Provider Shield Bill is now on its way to Governor McKee, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to ensure the strongest possible protections for reproductive health care and for the health care needs of our transgender and LGBQ+ communities in Rhode Island.” 

The Health Care Provider Shield Act is supported by a provider-led coalition of more than 40 organizations, including the following health care associations and providers: the American Academy of Pediatrics, Rhode Island Chapter; American Association of Nurses- RI/Rhode Island State Nurses Association; American College of Emergency Medicine Physicians; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; American College of Physicians, RI; East Bay Community Action Program; National Association of Social Workers; Nurse Practitioner Alliance of RI; Primary Care-Population Medicine MD-MSc Program Class of 2024; Rhode Island Academy of Family Medicine Physicians; Rhode Island Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; Rhode Island Medical Society; Rhode Island Academy of Physicians Assistants; Spectrum; Hospital Association of Rhode Island; Open Door Health; Planned Parenthood of Southern NE; Thrive Behavioral Health; Thundermist Health Center; Rhode Island Health Center Association; and Wood River Health Services. 

“Today’s vote has brought us one step closer to protecting our provider community and the patients who rely on this essential care with the shield protections they need, deserve, and are requesting,” said Jeanne LaChance, President/CEO, Thundermist Health Center. “Rhode Island has a long history of supporting transgender people’s freedom to live without discrimination, including access to health care. When enacted, this bill will be one more example of Rhode Island’s leadership in protecting the rights of all Rhode Islanders to live safe and healthy lives.”

“Today, we celebrate the passage of the Health Care Provider Shield Bill, a testament to Rhode Island’s commitment to protecting the reproductive rights of all individuals. This victory sends a clear message that Rhode Island has our health care providers’ backs and supports them in delivering legally protected transgender and reproductive health care,” said Vimala Phongsavanh Senior Director, External Affairs at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, “This is a momentous day for Rhode Island, and we are grateful to Senator Dawn Euer and Representative Edwards’ sponsorship of this legislation, and House and Senate leadership for once again affirming their commitments to championing reproductive health and rights for all.”

“I’m thankful to my colleagues in the House and Senate who voted for this important bill. The Health Care Provider Shield Act is about protecting established, best-practice medical care that is already legal in Rhode Island. This bill simply ensures that our local providers and our health care infrastructure aren’t negatively impacted by hostile laws in other states,” said Representative John “Jay” Edwards. “Politicians in multiple U.S. states are engaging in alarming government overreach, banning access to essential medical care and instituting civil and criminal penalties on providers for practicing medicine in line with the professional standards of care. This legislation will bring Rhode Island policy into alignment with laws in our neighboring states Massachusetts and Connecticut, and 11 additional states plus DC with similar laws, to ensure that these out-of-state statutes aren’t used against health care providers in Rhode Island.”

The Health Care Provider Shield Act Coalition also includes the ACLU of Rhode Island, Amnesty International USA, Center for Reproductive Rights, COYOTE, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), House of Codec, Protect Our Health Care RI, PPRI Votes, Pride in Aging, RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence, RI Commission on Human Rights, RI Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, RI Public Health Institute, RI State Council of Churches, The Trevor Project, The Womxn Project, TGI Network, and Youth Pride Inc.

Learn more about the bill.