Sightlines by Mercy A. Quaye

In the face of challenges to Roe v. Wade, Connecticut residents would do well to realize we live in a bit of a glass house when it comes to abortion access. Not every community has equal access to safe and high-quality reproductive care, even though the right to choose is spelled out in Connecticut law.

From our state’s most densely populated urban areas to the somewhat affectionately nicknamed “Quiet Corner,” affordable reproductive care is by no means guaranteed in Connecticut.

The effort to overturn constitutionally guaranteed abortion protections had been picking up steam for the better part of the last decade. Now, with a model to force a test case in Texas, the desire to revoke a person’s right to choose has metastasized throughout the south. As governors of liberal states throughout the country run to deem themselves “abortion sanctuaries” for out-of-state residents, the question of how we’re ensuring equitable access for in-state residents remains unanswered.

California’s sanctuary plan includes possibly paying for travel, lodging and procedures for people from other states. Gov. Ned Lamont hasn’t gone as far as California Gov. Gavin Newsom and claimed “sanctuary” status, but he has reassured residents that as long as he’s governor, we won’t have to worry about disruptions to settled statutes that protect a person’s right to have an abortion.

But this commitment to protecting the law is not the same as a commitment to ensuring equitable access.

The protections granted to individuals through Roe are important but minimal. And according to Liz Gustafson, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut, those protections should be seen as the floor, not the ceiling.

“It’s always been the floor, and it’s meaningless without well-funded facilities in our communities,” she said. “The anti-abortion movement is no different here in Connecticut than it is in Texas, Alabama or Mississippi. We have a lot of work to do before we can start calling ourselves a sanctuary state.”

Residents in Tolland and Windham counties are just as likely to lack access to reproductive health care as Black, brown and low-income individuals in our state’s major cities. That’s because, while there are 14 Planned Parenthood locations throughout the state and 27 acute care hospitals, the nearly 300,000 people who live in Tolland and Windham Counties have access to only one of those Planned Parenthood locations and four hospitals – Windham Community Memorial Hospital, Day Kimball Healthcare in Putnam, Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford Springs and Rockville General Hospital in Vernon. New London county is similarly short of care.

“The Quiet Corner has more barriers when it comes to accessing the full range of reproductive care than nearly any other part of the state,” Gustafson said. “For far too long, we’ve separated the conversations about abortion from the ones about reproductive care. But attacks on abortion are attacks on both.”

Last year, Windham Hospital closed its labor and delivery unit, citing years of declining birth rates. The facility is now referring patients to Backus Hospital in Norwich – a 25-minute drive that has affected some more than others. Gustafson’s group has been working to cushion the impact of that closure and support advocates in their efforts to provide ongoing care for patients where they live.

“Health care should be provided by people our communities trust,” she said. “People should be able to access health care in their own neighborhoods and shouldn’t have to travel to an unknown community to receive care from people that they don’t know.”

It almost goes without saying that the biggest barriers to access have always been experienced by people of color. If Roe is overturned and our state hasn’t done much to equalize access to reproductive care, people of color will suffer the brunt of the consequences.

“Wealthy white people who live in the suburbs will always find a way,” said Janée Woods Weber, newly selected executive director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund. “Access is still an issue in Connecticut, and chipping away at these laws will make it harder for people who are already legally allowed. We have quelled ourselves into thinking that we’re safe, and we’re not.”

Citing a “dire lack of transportation” throughout the state, Woods Weber says rural and urban residents are equally disadvantaged when it comes to accessing quality care. Similarly, both communities, which struggle with various levels of income or housing insecurities, will be disproportionately impacted by the lifelong economic load that comes with supporting children before you’re ready.

“The economic health of our community is hinged on everyone’s access to health care,” Woods Weber said. “And if we really want to have the kinds of healthy communities that we say we want to live in, that means that we need to protect everyone’s right to health care, especially reproductive care.”

Overturning Roe would impact our way of life in ways most of us can’t even imagine. Many of us have only lived in a post-Roe world. Woods Weber, at 45 years old, was born three years after the passage of Roe. Gustafson, at 29, was born the same year the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the right to an abortion in a landmark 1992 case that confirmed states could not impose an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion.

I think it’s time for us to revisit the definition of “undue.” For far too long, the measure of access has been based on whether the wealthiest among us can obtain the services they desire.

We’re creating laws to deepen advantages already experienced by a powerful few instead of enshrining equity at all levels. Doing so will inevitably widen the existing gaps between the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, the healthy and the sick. Because when you force people to carry, give birth to and raise children they weren’t ready for, you stunt their ability to adequately prepare for life ahead.

Any parent will tell you going to work, school or even the bathroom with a baby in tow is difficult. How can we expect equity in a world where some people get the privilege of independence and others are asked to put their lives on hold to quell the moral outrage of a vocal minority?

“These denials have a direct impact on individual and family health, social mobility, economic opportunity and political power, especially when considered over the span of generations,” Woods Weber said. “To be clear, banning abortion will not be as catastrophic for white people with resources, especially money and the ability to travel. They have always been able to find a way to receive the care they need, even when that care is not legal.”

Mercy A. Quaye writes a monthly column called Sightlines for CT Mirror and is the editor of CT Mirror's Community Editorial Board. In 2015 she founded and continues to lead The Narrative Project, a mission-driven communications consulting group providing communications support to non-profit organizations throughout the state. Born and raised in New Haven, Mercy has an undergraduate degree in Journalism and a master’s degree in Public Relations, Social Media and Applied Communications, both from Quinnipiac University. Her work experience includes roles as a columnist for Hearst Connecticut, Adjunct Professor of Digital Journalism at Southern Connecticut State University, radio show host, and communications specialist for advocacy, community, and educational organizations.