Janée Woods Weber, executive director at Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund, speaks in support of reproductive rights. Gov. Ned Lamont held a news conference to reaffirm his commitment to ensuring that Connecticut remains a state that protects reproductive rights. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

Gov. Ned Lamont committed Tuesday to signing abortion rights legislation that combines two measures — one intended to broaden access, another to strengthen  legal protections— into one bill that the House passed by day’s end.

Coming as the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing restrictions on abortion, proponents say passage of the measures would reaffirm Connecticut’s commitment to abortion rights while increasing access to early-term abortions at clinics.

“We thought that women had the full range of reproductive choice, going back to Roe v. Wade, going back 50 years when I was young,” Lamont said. “And it’s incredible that it’s back on the front burner.”

The bill had electoral as well as policy implications, giving the first-term Democratic governor and lawmakers an opportunity to highlight their defense of reproductive rights in an election year.

The bill passed on 87-60 vote that blurred party lines.

View the roll call vote here.

Fourteen Democrats, including 10 members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, voted in opposition. Seven Republicans, including Rep. Laura Devlin of Fairfield, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, voted in support.

The bill provided the first opportunity for Rep. Treneé McGee, D-West Haven, a rarity in the House Democratic caucus as an outspoken opponent of abortion, to speak about abortion in a House debate since her election in a special election in December.

McGee, who is Black, said too many African-American girls were taught to think of abortion as just another form of birth control, and the Black community had far more desperate needs than expanded access to abortion.

“I want to speak to the history of this industry and why I think it’s destructive to my community,” McGee said. “Black women make up 14% of child-bearing population yet obtained 36.2% of all reported abortions. Black women have the highest abortion ratio in the country — 474 abortions per 1,000 live births.”

Rep. Treneé McGee broke with her House Democratic caucus over abortion in her first House speech. CT-N

Black and Puerto Rican Caucus members, including some who voted for the bill, posed for a photo after the vote with McGee, who said their support was important to her.

The day began with Lamont pledging his support in a press conference with two proponents of reproductive rights who portrayed the legislation as a politically symbolic and substantive policy advance.

One bill would allow advanced-practice clinicians such A.P.R.N.s and physician assistants 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 14 other states.

Amanda Skinner, the president of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, said the advance-practice change would increase the number of abortion providers and shorten what is now a two-week wait for first-trimester abortions.

Skinner and Janée Woods Weber, the executive director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, joined Lamont at a press conference that made the governor’s support clear ahead of the House vote.

Amanda Skinner, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, answers a question from the media. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

“We will never achieve gender equity or economic equity without full reproductive freedom,” Woods Weber said.

The other bill is intended to provide a legal “safe harbor” to women from states with restrictive abortion laws who get abortions in Connecticut, as well as the clinicians who provide them. 

The latter provision is partly a reaction to a Texas law that creates a private right of action for anyone to sue patients or providers involved in abortions performed after a fetal heartbeat is detected, generally about six weeks.

“It’s almost like vigilante justice,” Lamont said of the Texas law. “You know — ‘We’ll pay you if you give us information that somebody that tried to secure an abortion, even out of state.’”

The bill would restrict how health care records could be accessed by plaintiffs in those so-called civil “bounty” cases, and it would give the targets a legal right in Connecticut to recover legal costs.

Once debate began Tuesday night, the two measures were combined into one amendment to House Bill 5414 on a largely party line 93-54 vote with every Republican and one Democrat, McGee, in opposition.

Some Republicans said they would have voted for the safe harbor bill but objected to the portion expanding who can perform aspiration abortions. Others said they generally support abortion rights but found the bill flawed.

“We can all agree that we want abortions to be legal, safe and rare,” said Rep. Kimberly Fiorello, R-Greenwich. “And I believe that this bill is going in the opposite direction. Legal, safe and rare is what we can all agree on.”

Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, said the new providers would work in collaboration with physicians, providing safe and necessary reproductive care.

Lawmakers had huddled off the House floor for much of the day, crafting an amendment and addressing concerns that early legislative language was overly broad and potentially unconstitutional.

“It’s creating a cause of action for anyone to come into Connecticut, to bring third-party lawsuits for judgments that might have been held against them in other states. And so that sort of impacts the notion that states are allowed to govern themselves,” said House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford.

Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, one of the two major sponsors with Gilchrest, said the legal questions were clarified in the amendment.

Connecticut has not made significant changes in abortion law since 1990, when the state codified in state law the tenets of Roe v. Wade, the decision that barred states from prohibiting abortions in the first 12-week trimester.

Rep. Matt Blumenthal, a lead sponsor of the bill, watches an early test vote on an amendment go his way. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

“But today that right is under threat as never before,” Blumenthal said. “Other states around the country have started to pass laws deputizing private citizens as essentially vigilante bounty hunters to sue any person or organization, physician, nurse, clinic, friend, even the Uber driver, who assists an individual in obtaining an abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy.”

Rep. Aimee Berger-Girvalo, D-Ridgefield, described getting an abortion when she was 18, a decision she made with her boyfriend, who later became her husband and the father of their two children.

“I have never once regretted my choice — my choice,” she said.

The issue came before the Connecticut General Assembly in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority revising Roe when it rules on a Mississippi abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said the Connecticut House was primed to act.

“I think there are many members like me — I’ve been here 14 years — who’ve never really had to debate a ‘choice’ bill. But given the climate that we now exist in, where we have states moving in the direction that we are, it’s bringing it back to our legislative agenda,” Rojas said. “We’re going to take action to ensure that we protect Connecticut residents and perhaps other people who might come to Connecticut to avail themselves of that right.”

Jenna Carlesso contributed to this story.

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.