CT abortion law won’t change - yet - despite Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Friday overturning nearly 50 years of reproductive rights may mean little in the short term for Connecticut, where abortion is codified in state law and the General Assembly this year approved legislation to become a safe harbor for physicians and patients from throughout the country.

The high court ruling gives states the power to support or ban abortions. Reproduction rights were written into Connecticut law about 30 years ago, and during this past legislative session, the laws were expanded to protect women seeking abortions from other states - and the medical personnel who treat them - from civil and criminal liability from outside Connecticut.

A legal expert, however, warned that the new law, set to take effect on July 1, might not protect nonresidents who journey to Connecticut for abortions.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

While the decision did not come as a surprise, following the earlier leaking of a draft court opinion, disappointment and vindication depended on where state residents stood on the issue. Opponents of the decision warned that it could be the next step in the conservative court majority’s attacks on a variety of civil liberties, including same-sex marriage.

“This decision is cruel and unconscionable because it will send doctors to jail for providing life-saving care and it will turn women into felons,” said Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz. “It’s cruel and unconscionable because it targets poor women, indigenous women and women of color.”

State Attorney General William Tong said the ruling is likely “just the beginning of a systematic right-wing effort to rewrite decades of bedrock legal precedent, the foundation of which is our long-recognized right to privacy in making our most personal decisions.” He predicted a forthcoming “tsunami of radical litigation and legislation aimed at further eroding rights we have taken for granted—some for generations” with marriage equality, inter-racial marriage, and access to birth control as possible future targets.

Chris Healy, a former state Republican chairman who is the spokesman for the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference.

Chris Healy, a former state Republican chairman who is the spokesman for the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference.

Bob Child / AP Photo /Bob Child

“We know already there are plans to push for a nationwide abortion ban should Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress,” Tong said.

Todd Fernow, professor emeritus at the UConn School of Law specializing in criminal law and procedure said the ruling essentially gives more rights to the unborn. “They came very close to declaring a fetus a person,” he said in an interview. “That’s troubling because it validates what is already on the horizon: making termination of a pregnancy a homicide.”

Fernow predicted eventual prosecutions for manslaughter or murder. He said that Connecticut’s efforts to protect out-of-state residents from prosecution is likely unenforceable and could create a false sense of security.

“That’s flatly unconstitutional,” Fernow said. “That’s not going to fly. States will be powerless to prevent anyone from being extradited. You can’t prevent an extradition. That’s not a choice, and it’s specific in the extradition clause of the Constitution.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal rejected the thesis.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

“First of all, Connecticut can’t extradite people,” said the former longtime state attorney general now seeking a third term in the Senate. “It’s not like a foreign country. We’re not the 13 colonies anymore. Point number two, protecting against the use of Connecticut’s state process, our legal system, to punish somebody in a way that violates our state constitution and our state laws, is perfectly supportable.”

The Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference called the decision “a new era of opportunity and responsibility to safeguard life and protect the most innocent among us.” The conservative clerics welcomed a “historic reversal, which affirms the right to life of an unborn child and we pledge to do all that is possible to support pregnant women who face serious challenges.”

The conference acknowledged that the nation is deeply divided. “Acts of violence and other hateful actions will only make it more difficult for constructive discourse,” the conference wrote in a statement shortly after the release of the decision. “It is time for reconciliation as we support a culture of life together. In that spirit, our parishes and our social programs must be prepared to meet the increasing needs for pro-life pregnancy resource centers and supports for women raising children.”

Attacks against abortion clinics rose in 2021 and more were linked to the actions of white supremacists, according to a report last month by the National Abortion Foundation.

An abortion at 20 years old

Lauren Gray, 33, of Shelton, said she felt shattered all day Friday following the decision, recalling her own decision more than a dozen years earlier to terminate her pregnancy. Gray had an abortion when she was 20 and in a bad relationship. Because of her decision, she said, she was able to leave that relationship, meet her eventual husband and have two children. Now, Gray said, many women will be unable to safely make the same choices she did.

“Honestly, I’ve just felt devastated and horrified all day that this is the new reality,” she said. “There’s so much at stake. I don’t think this Supreme Court or Republicans will stop here.”

Gray echoed the thoughts of many advocates who say that making abortion illegal won’t stop people from seeking to end their pregnancies - it will just make the process unsafe. “I’m happy to live in a state like Connecticut willing to protect reproductive freedoms, and I’m going to fight,” she said.

Dr. Nancy Stanwood, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, the state’s largest abortion provider, said during an online news conference on Friday that women from Texas have already come to Connecticut seeking abortions.

She recalled one recent case that highlights “what we’re going to continue to see” in the weeks and months following the Supreme Court’s decision.

One of Planned Parenthood’s clinics recently cared for a patient from Texas, who became pregnant as a result of a rape, had a connection in Connecticut and the means to travel here to get an abortion.

“These bans in other states, many of them, most of them, will not have exceptions for rape or incest,” Stanwood said.

The new Connecticut law taking effect July 1 expands the types of medical providers who can perform aspiration abortions, the most common in-clinic procedure. Stanwood said Planned Parenthood is in midst of developing a training program for its advanced practice clinicians who are interested in performing the procedure. She said she expects the training program to start this summer.

Amanda Skinner, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, said it’s hard to estimate the number of women who will come to Connecticut seeking care or the number of providers that will be needed. The current wait time for an abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic is about two weeks.

State lawmakers, knowing that the leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision set the table for the eventual ruling, reacted to the court ruling with outrage.

“I am anguished and angry beyond words,” Blumenthal told reporters in Hartford. “And scared. Downright petrified.” ”

Blumenthal noted that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has indicated support for a nationwide abortion ban if Republicans gain control over the legislative and executive branches of government. “Connecticut will be in danger because Mitch McConnell is going to lead this country to a national ban on abortion,” he said.

State Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Windham, encouraged pro-choice Connecticut residents to not only vote for pro-choice leaders locally but also to support women in other states seeking abortions.

“If you’re thinking about how privileged you are to live in the state of Connecticut, think about the money some women are going to have to spend, and probably don’t have, to travel across state lines to get reproductive health care,” she said.

A 2022 election issue

“We are going to protect that right,” Lamont said on the north steps of the Capitol, taking a slap at his Republican challenger Bob Stefanowski. “I am so sick of these servants for Republicans talking about freedom and liberty and small government. This is the biggest encroachment on our freedoms I’ve had in my lifetime and it’s not going to happen in Connecticut.”

Stefanowski, in a statement earlier in the day, said the Supreme Court ruling “has absolutely no impact on Connecticut residents.” He charged that Lamont is “extreme” in opposing Stefanowski’s support for mandatory parental notification for girls under the age of 16 seeking abortions.

Earlier in the day, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy warned that the future depends on stopping the GOP from taking control of the Congress and the presidency in two years. “This is awful news for women, for families, for health care providers, for every American,” Murphy said in Hartford.

“What we saw is six politicians masquerading as justices, trying to impose their political views on this nation,” he said.

Earlier this month, Murphy, Blumenthal and other senators called on President Joe Biden to develop a national plan to protect reproductive rights.

“I wish I was shocked, but I sadly am not,” said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, in a statement shortly after the court announcement.

“This activist conservative Supreme Court that lambasts decisions it does not like as judicial activism has made a dangerous move, disregarding science and decades of legal precedent to strip away a woman’s fundamental and constitutional right to make her own health care decisions,” DeLauro said.

Leora Levy, the Greenwich newcomer, a member of the Republican National Committee who is seeking the nomination to challenge Blumenthal if she wins the party’s August primary, praised the high court’s ruling.

“Today the Supreme Court decision has returned America to valuing, respecting and protecting Life,” Levy said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we cannot turn back time and ensure a chance for life to the 45 million babies who never had one, but we can celebrate the end of progressive pressure to abandon the Constitution and our American values.”

State Rep. Steve Meskers, D-Greenwich, sharply criticized the court.

“This week we have witnessed the most outlandish and foolish rulings by our Supreme Court,” said Meskers, the second-term vice chairman of the legislative Finance Committee.

“Freshly off the slaughter of children in Uvalde and a senate finally showing some marginal backbone to the NRA, our Supreme Court has sent a clear message, which is that the lives of our kids don’t really matter and that the women in our country don’t deserve the right to make reproductive decisions for themselves,” he said. “The testimony they gave on settled law as they were interviewed for the job of Supreme Court justice has proven to be the worst kind of shameful chicanery.”

Another Republican, however, Toni Boucher of Wilton, who is seeking to regain the state Senate seat she lost four years ago to Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, said the ruling is making women afraid.

“I understand that this issue is deeply emotional and personal for every person and differing personal views and beliefs must always be respected,” Boucher said in a statement. “For me personally, I have been on the record for over 20 years as a pro-choice legislator and will continue to be one if returned to office. I have and will always fiercely protect women, their health, and their right to choose."

Staff writers Ken Dixon, Alex Putterman, Jordan Fenster, Amanda Cuda, Ken Borsuk and Julia Bergman contributed to this report.