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Abortion Opponents Sue R.I. Governor

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CN) - The Rhode Island State Right to Life Committee and 28 state legislators say Gov. Lincoln Chafee illegally bypassed the Legislature in issuing an executive order to create a Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange Program, to sell health insurance plans that include coverage for abortions.

The Federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress in 2010, requires states to create their own Health Care Benefits Exchange programs by Jan. 1, 2013.

"Such an Exchange would serve as a centralized marketplace for Rhode Islanders and small businesses to purchase health care coverage, claim federal tax credits and comply with the individual mandate to purchase health insurance contained in the Act," according to the complaint in Washington County Court.

The Rhode Island Senate in April passed The Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange Act and the House introduced a similar bill. The Senate bill, which restricted use of government funds for abortions, was not voted on by the House and the House bill was not put to a vote in the House or Senate.

On Sept. 19, Chafee bypassed both houses and issued his an executive order: "Establishment of the Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange." Under the order, power over funding for the Exchange, including tens of millions of dollars in federal grants, would be placed in the hands of the Health Director, who would control how the money is spent, enter into contracts with insurers, determine which products and services would be offered, and purchase reinsurance.

The plaintiffs say the order could be interpreted as requiring Rhode Island insurers to provide benefits beyond those mandated by the federal law, including abortions, and could obligate the state to pay the cost of the additional coverage.

The plaintiffs claim that Chafee's Exchange is contrary to the bills passed by the Senate and introduced by the House, which granted executive power to a board rather than one individual.

The Rhode Island State Right to Life Committee joined the action, because it worked to get the Senate bill amended to include the restrictions on abortion, which were not included in Chafee's order.

The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the governor's order is void, because it violated the Rhode Island Constitution, which states that the governor may not create laws; he can only carry out laws delegated by the Rhode Island General Assembly.

The plaintiffs are represented by Joseph Larisa Jr.

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