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 The ACLU urged deletion of both outdated laws, and further encouraged the elimination of a law prohibiting abortion coverage for state employees.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

  • Dec, 08, 2017: Settlement Reached in Lawsuit Involving Rhode Island’s Public Breastfeeding Law
  • May, 12, 2017: ACLU Sues YMCA in Westerly for Violating Woman’s Right to Breastfeed
  • Nov, 21, 2016: ACLU Sues Fire District Over Sex-Discriminatory Firings

View All Women's Rights Related News Releases »

Women’s Rights Court Cases

2017: Gooding v. Ocean Community YMCA
Category: Discrimination    Gender Discrimination    Women's Rights    

About This Case:
This is a lawsuit against the Ocean Community YMCA in Westerly, RI, on behalf of Elizabeth Gooding for violating her right to breastfeed in public.  The suit, filed in Rhode Island Superior Court, claims that the facility repeatedly prohibited Gooding from breastfeeding her baby there, in violation of state anti-discrimination laws and a statute specifically allowing breastfeeding in public.

Current Status:
Lawsuit settled in November 2017.

ACLU Cooperating Attorney:
H. Jefferson Melish

Supporting Documents
2016: Perreault v. Harmony Fire District / Ferragamo v. Harmony Fire District
Category: Active Case    Discrimination    Gender Discrimination    Women's Rights    Workplace Rights    

About These Cases:
These are two separate lawsuits on behalf of two female EMT/firefighters who were terminated from their jobs at the Harmony Fire District after they raised concerns about unequal treatment of male and female firefighters. Both women were EMT/firefighters for the Harmony Fire District 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. Notably, none of the male firefighters who raised concerns about equal treatment of male and female employees were disciplined or terminated.

Current Status:
Lawsuits filed in December 2016.

ACLU Cooperating Attorney:
Lynette Labinger, Sonja Deyoe

Supporting Documents

View All Sex Discrimination Court Cases »

Women’s Rights Legislation

Abortion (H 7340, S 2163)
Category: 2018    Abortion    

With the constitutional protections of Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance in light of a divided U.S. Supreme Court, Rep. Edith Ajello and Sen. Gayle Goldin have introduced legislation  (H-7340, S-2163) that would codify the principles of that seminal court decision into state law and ensure that women in Rhode Island continue to have access to safe reproductive health care. The bill also repeals a number of state laws on the books that have been declared unconstitutional over the years. A major push is underway by a coalition of pro-choice organizations, including the ACLU, to enact the bill. You can read our statement on this legislation here.