The leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion pointing to the end of the federal constitutional right to abortion in America echoed thunderously Tuesday in the stone halls of the Connecticut Capitol.
Democrats committed to reproductive rights reacted with emotion and resolve, deploring the potential end of a half-century of settled law while leaning into an issue capable of injecting some passion into the midterm elections.
In the lobby of the Capitol, lawmakers allied with an abortion rights coalition gathered to declare a war-time footing, saying the prospect of repealing Roe v. Wade may have been expected but was still a jolt to generations of American women who came of age in an era of legal abortion.
“I am not surprised by the decision that is pending. But I am so very angry,” said Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, who counts herself among the estimated one in four women who have had abortions. “We cannot go back. We can’t go back to that time for women who choose to have an abortion. We cannot go back. We must resist.”
The disclosure offers a preview both of the court’s thinking and the potential political impact in Connecticut. Democrats here have struggled for a spark to turn out voters in the same numbers as 2018, when hostility to Donald J. Trump helped them win the governor’s office and overwhelming legislative majorities.
“For years, Democrats have warned that elections have consequences. The stark reality is before us today, and Republicans are directly responsible,” said Nancy DiNardo, the Democratic state chair.
Ben Proto, the GOP state chair, pushed back. He said, “The Democrats are trying to find something to glom onto to cover up their failures.”
The leak comes as the General Assembly is inching towards its constitutional adjournment deadline of midnight Wednesday and Connecticut’s political class is preparing to turn its attention to the Democratic and Republican nominating conventions this weekend.
Connecticut Republicans either ignored or downplayed the significance of the draft that was obtained by Politico and authenticated by Chief Justice John Roberts, who cautioned it might not be the final word. But Politico reported that a majority had voted for the essence of the draft.
“The leaked Supreme Court opinion doesn’t change anything here in Connecticut. In Connecticut, a woman’s right to choose is fully protected under state law,” Bob Stefanowski, the presumptive Republican nominee for governor, said in an email to CT Mirror.
Stefanowski has studiously avoided deeper conversations about abortion before the nominating convention, communicating by text or email and ignoring inquiries about whether he agreed with the recent vote for an abortion rights bill by his running mate, Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield.
The anti-abortion Family Institute of Connecticut refrained from celebrating news of the draft as premature, while allowing that if accurate, “it will be an enormous victory for life in America.”
Rep. Treneé McGee, D-West Haven, a 27-year-old Black abortion opponent who made race an element of a recent House debate on the abortion rights bill, bemoaned abortion overshadowing other issues of importance to her community.
“We’re not talking about paid family leave, I think, the way we can. We’re not talking about educating young women or resources. We’re not talking about safe haven laws, even though babies continuously turn up in trash cans,” McGee said. “Those are the things that we’re not talking about.”
The abortion bill McGee opposed and Devlin supported offers protections in Connecticut for women from other states seeking abortions, as well as the providers who perform them. Among other things, it limits the governor’s discretion to extradite individuals accused of performing acts in Connecticut that result in crimes in another state.
Gov. Ned Lamont, the Democrat seeking reelection, advocated for the bill’s passage and promises to sign it into law in coming days. Stefanowski has yet to say if he would sign it if he had won his first contest with Lamont in 2018.
Devlin said she did not consult with Stefanowski about her intention to vote for the bill, nor has she had a broader conversation with him about abortion.
“This subject is one that is highly emotional and highly divisive. I think it’s also a very personal decision for anybody,” said Devlin, who quickly pivoted to Stefanowski’s pre-convention talking point. “But again, whatever the Supreme Court decides, it does not affect the state.”
Another of the seven House Republicans who voted for the bill was Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, a candidate for secretary of the state who expects to be in a three-way battle for the nomination. She, too, said abortion rights are safe in Connecticut.
Legally, Stefanowski, Devlin and Wood are correct, at least for now. A repeal of Roe v. Wade would return to the states the authority to decide when and whether to allow abortions, and Connecticut codified the tenets of Roe in state law 32 years ago.
But, as the Washington Post reported Monday, at least two Republican senators are talking about seeking a nationwide ban, encouraged by activists who hope to enlist Republican candidates for president in 2024.
“We will fight that effort, tooth and nail, any court, any place. Connecticut will be there, and we will fight,” Attorney General William Tong told the abortion rights coalition members in Hartford. “Let’s just not mince words. They will come for us. And the only thing sitting between them and the people and the families of the state are all of you.”
Tong, a Democrat seeking reelection, cast what is coming in apocalyptic terms.
“What the Supreme Court proposes to do is to carpet bomb fundamental rights that are hardwired into who we are as Americans. And if this decision becomes more than a draft decision and becomes real for all of us, let me tell you what will happen. It will split this country in two.”
He spoke to the gathering organized Tuesday by the legislature’s Reproductive Rights Caucus in the north lobby of the Capitol.
It drew a cross-section of abortion-rights activists in Connecticut. Tong was among those not yet born when the Roe v. Wade landmark was handed down in 1973 by a 7-2 majority dominated by GOP appointees.
The leaders of the caucus are Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, and Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, both elected to their first terms in 2018, the year when Democrats made their first legislative gains since 2008.
“We’ve had many fights defending these rights. I never thought, in my lifetime, I would see this day. But here we are,” said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, 73, a former House majority leader approaching retirement. “And we have a new generation of leaders like Jillian and Matt who are going to take the reins on this and make sure that Connecticut remains the strongest state in the nation for the rights of women. And that’s what’s at stake here today.”
Liz Gustafson, the state director of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut, noted that she was born after Roe and not long after Connecticut codified it in state law. She turned 30 on Tuesday, and she has testified before the legislature about her decision to abort a pregnancy for which she was unprepared.
“The right to access the abortion care that I needed, it has always been my reality,” she said.
In the crowd behind her was Rep. Aimee Berger-Girvalo, D-Ridgefield, a freshman holding a seat that once belonged to a Republican National Committee member. She has publicly spoken about getting an abortion before her marriage, most recently in the House debate.
On Tuesday, she came for solidarity, not to speak. Her eyes teared up while she listened to the speakers. A colleague, Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, caught her eye and reached out. They held hands for a time.
“None of us want to be here today. This is not a press conference anybody wants to be speaking at,” said Claudine Constant, the policy and advocacy director for ACLU in Connecticut. “We’re all absolutely devastated that this is happening.”
Like the others, she looks ahead to organizing, marching and voting.
“I encourage all of us, not just the legislators, but the organizers, the advocates, the people who are taking a day of grief and mourning before they’re ready to get back up and fight again, to donate to abortion care funds, not just here in Connecticut, but across the country. Show up,” she said. “Don’t stop yelling.”