Women's Rights Issues The ACLU of Rhode Island is Involved With - Court Cases, Legislation, News Releases


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


Women's Rights

The ACLU has argued more women's rights cases before the United States Supreme Court than any other organization. Despite the great strides that have been made in recent decades, gender discrimination remains a very real concern. This discrimination still takes many forms – glass ceilings in the workplace, differential treatment in health insurance coverage, attempts to limit access to reproductive health care, and so on.

Gender Discrimination

It was only ten years ago that the ACLU of Rhode Island had to file a lawsuit to overturn a state law that gave a town a one-time exemption from the Fair Employment Practices Act in order to allow its acquisition of an all-male private fire and rescue service. Until full equality is a reality, the ACLU will continue its advocacy work in support of women’s rights.

“Women’s rights are an essential part of the overall human rights agenda, trained on the equal dignity and ability to live in freedom all people should enjoy.”
– Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice and Founder of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project

Women's Rights at the State House

Abortion Health Insurance Ban (H 7467)

Sometimes, simply having a law declared unconstitutional isn’t enough to remove it from the books entirely. Unconstitutional statutes linger in the General Laws, causing confusion to those who aren’t versed in constitutional history and – in the case of abortion laws – providing false information to people about their rights. In February, the ACLU testified before the House Corporations committee in support of legislation sponsored by Representative Joseph Almeida (H 7467) removing from the General Laws two provisions regarding health insurance coverage for abortion that were struck down long ago, following challenge by the ACLU. The first required abortion coverage to be offered only as an optional rider, at additional expense to women. The second barred municipalities from offering abortion coverage to their employees. The ACLU urged deletion of both outdated laws, and further encouraged the elimination of a law prohibiting abortion coverage for state employees.

Gender Rating in Health Insurance (H 7513)

Nationwide, women have historically been charged more for the same health insurance as men, solely because of their gender, leaving women less able to purchase vital health care coverage. This practice, known as gender rating, became illegal for certain health care plans under the federal Affordable Care Act, but gaps in Rhode Island law may allow the practice to continue. Legislation sponsored by Representative Katherine Kazarian (H 7513) will close these gaps and ensure gender rating does not occur in Rhode Island, regardless of any changes to federal law. The ACLU testified before the House Corporations committee in support of this legislation in February. The Senate has approved similar legislation annually for the last several years; the House has never moved the legislation out of committee.

Shackling of Pregnant Prisoners (H 7613)

In March, the ACLU testified before the House Judiciary committee in support of legislation sponsored by Representative Shelby Maldonado (H 7613) to strengthen the state’s limitation on shackling pregnant incarcerated women. The physical restraint of pregnant inmates during transport, labor, delivery and recovery is viewed as a major human rights and civil rights concern, within the United States and internationally. A restrained pregnant woman cannot move freely or control her balance, placing both her and her fetus at risk. While Rhode Island law generally prohibits the shackling of pregnant women during transport to a medical facility, labor, delivery or postpartum recovery, recent review of the law revealed some gaps that may leave pregnant prisoners vulnerable. This legislation will expand the law to prohibit shackling during transport to or from a court proceeding during a pregnant inmate’s third trimester, when their mobility and balance are significantly limited. The legislation also imposes a reporting requirement, so state officials can keep track of the number of pregnant women incarcerated during the prior year, the outcome of their pregnancy, and the numbers of pregnant women restrained. Read the facts about the bill here.

Women’s Rights in the News

  • Nov, 21, 2016: ACLU Sues Fire District Over Sex-Discriminatory Firings
  • Jun, 27, 2016: ACLU Issues Statement on Supreme Court’s Decision in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt
  • Jun, 24, 2016: ACLU Issues Statement in Response to Westerly Yacht Controversy

View All Women's Rights Related News Releases »

Women’s Rights Court Cases

2016: Discrimination Complaints Against The Harmony Fire District
Category: Active Case    Discrimination    Gender Discrimination    Women's Rights    Workplace Rights    

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island has filed two charges of sex discrimination against the Harmony Fire District on behalf of two female EMT/firefighter who were terminated from their jobs after they and several others raised concerns that male and female firefighters were being treated differently. The charges, filed with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, are on behalf of Kimberly Perreault, who served as an EMT/firefighter for the Harmony Fire District for 12 years, and Linda Ferragamo, an EMT/firefighter at the department for more than a decade. 

Ms. Perreault was terminated in January 2015 for purportedly being “unhappy” with the fire department and Ms Ferragamo was terminated in August 2015 after raising concerns about gender discrimination. None of the male firefighters who raised concerns about equal treatment of male and female employees have been disciplined or terminated. 

2010: RI NOW v. Wall
Category: Criminal Justice    Open Government    Women's Rights    

Favorably settled open records lawsuit against the Department of Corrections for refusing to disclose its policies relating to the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners.

View All Sex Discrimination Court Cases »

Women’s Rights Legislation

Repeal of Prohibition for Abortion Insurance (H 5435)
Category: 2017    Abortion    

During the first week of March, the House Corportations Committee heard testimony regarding legislation introduced by Rep. Joseph Almeida (H 5435) to repeal the provisions of the general laws that currently prohibit health insurance coverage for induced abortions in policies covering state and municipal employees. (The municipal employee ban, though it remains on the books, was declared unconstitutional many years ago.) This important legislation would ensure that employees who receive their health insurance through their state or municipal job would not be denied this necessary medical coverage in seeking or needing to have an abortion. The ACLU strongly supports this legislation.

Abortion (H 5343, S 274)
Category: 2017    Abortion    

With the constitutional protections of Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance in light of a divided U.S. Supreme Court, Representative Edith Ajello (H 5343) and Senator Gayle Goldin (S 274) have introduced legislation that would codify the principles of that seminal court decision into state law. The House bill includes more than thirty co-sponsors, the most legislative support for abortion rights that the ACLU has seen in decades. ACLU volunteer attorney Lynette Labinger testified for the Affiliate in support of the legislation at a hearing in House Judiciary Committee in March.