The first March for Life in Connecticut drew an estimated 2,000 abortion opponents to the state Capitol on Wednesday, giving an anti-abortion movement with few political successes in the state a moment of celebration.

“Today marks a new beginning for the pro life movement in the state of Connecticut,” said Peter Wolfgang, the president of the Family Institute of Connecticut.

Connecticut is one of the most Catholic states in the U.S., yet one of the friendliest to the cause of reproductive rights with a dominant Democratic Party and a 32-year-old state law codifying the tenets of Roe v. Wade.

But a rally and a march organized by a national anti-abortion group, March for Life, comes as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the potential reversal of Roe, which struck down state bans on abortion 49 years ago.

Connecticut’s not going to go backwards. We’re not going to cower in fear of people who want to yell and scream. We’re going to protect a woman’s rights to choose, which is what the vast majority of Connecticut residents want.

House Speaker Matt Ritter
Archbishop Leonard Blair of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford gives a speech outside the state capitol. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

The rally opened with prayer and remarks by two of the region’s most prominent clergy: Archbishop Leonard Blair of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford and Archbishop LeRoy Bailey Jr., pastor of The First Cathedral in Bloomfield, a Black church with one of the largest congregations in New England.

“Our movement is made up of Americans in every racial and ethnic background, every walk of life and every faith tradition,” said Jeanne F. Mancini, the president of March for Life Education and Defense Fund. “We’re mothers, we’re fathers, we’re daughters, we’re sons. We are Democrats, we’re Republicans and we’re independents.”

Subsequent speakers set a more aggressive and overtly political tone, asserting their time is near, and the opposing camp is scared.

“They’re scared because life is winning in America and life can win in Connecticut, too,” Wolfgang said. “For years, we were told that abortion was not an issue in Connecticut, that there was no pro-life movement in Connecticut or no prior pro-life movement of any serious consequence. Well, look at all of you. Today, we prove them wrong.”

Capitol police and an organizer each estimated the crowd at 2,000, many holding green and white “Love Life, Choose Life” signs provided by the Knights of Columbus. They filled the plaza and lawn on the north side of the Capitol for an hour of speeches, then marched down the hill around Bushnell Park and back.

Opposition to abortion has been unusual among statewide office holders of both parties in Connecticut. Republican John G. Rowland, an opponent of abortion as a state lawmaker and congressman, famously dropped his stance before running for governor in 1990

But Leora Levy, a member of the Republican National Committee and a candidate for U.S. Senate, campaigned in the throng, trailed by volunteers who gathered contact information from potential supporters.

“I am a pro-life Republican,” Levy said. “I’m a very principled Republican.” 

Her appearance foreshadows abortion becoming a wedge issue in a Republican primary. Her main rival, former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, is a supporter of abortion rights with a voting record endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut.

Len Suzio, a former Republican state senator working for Levy, said, “This is going to become a big issue.”

Robert Hyde, another Republican running for U.S. Senate, had an information table at the rally.

No candidate was allowed to address the crowd. Rep. Lezlye Zupkus, R-Prospect, the mother of two adopted children, was the only lawmaker given a speaking slot.

The legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee is holding a hearing Friday on a resolution calling for a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion rights in Connecticut, but the amendment is not a priority of reproductive rights groups.

Instead, the focus is on two bills addressing more immediate concerns: Would states where abortion remains legal have the capacity to serve women from states where it is banned? And could restrictions from banned states reach into Connecticut?

A bill before the Public Health Committee would allow advanced-practice clinicians to perform abortions by suction, also known as vacuum aspiration. It is the most common method of in-clinic abortions and can be performed by clinicians other than doctors in more than a dozen other states.

Another measure before the Judiciary Committee essentially would bar Connecticut officials from assisting other states in enforcing bans on their residents from getting an abortion in a state where it is legal.

Christina Bennett, one of the speakers, said the latter bill “would allow abortion doctors who have broken laws in their states to come hide in Connecticut, making Connecticut a sanctuary state for abortion doctors.”

House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said he favors passage this session of the bill in Judiciary for both practical and symbolic reasons

“We can act before the court rules,” Ritter said. “And as these other states roll things back, I think it sends a very strong message: Connecticut’s not going to go backwards. We’re not going to retreat. We’re not going to cower in fear of people who want to yell and scream. We’re going to protect a woman’s rights to choose, which is what the vast majority of Connecticut residents want.”

Correction

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Republican state Rep. Lezlye Zupkus represents Wolcott. The 89th District includes Bethany, Prospect and parts of Cheshire.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.