Republican Bob Stefanowski’s carefully worded position on abortion won plaudits Thursday from an anti-abortion leader who sees common ground with a Connecticut gubernatorial nominee for the first time in decades.
Peter Wolfgang, the president of the Family Institute of Connecticut, was responding to a statement from Stefanowski indicating support for adding a parental notification provision to a Connecticut abortion rights law that he otherwise would not attempt to change.
“It has heartened pro-life voters. We know that Bob is not 100% with us. We’ve always suspected it. And now we know it for sure,” Wolfgang said. “But what we also know is where he does have common ground with us.”
Stefanowski, who was nominated by Republicans over the weekend for a rematch with Gov. Ned Lamont, has positioned himself to the right of the Democratic governor on abortion while not opposing Connecticut’s 32-year-old law codifying the tenets of Roe v. Wade.
His approach will test whether a candidate can appeal to social conservatives, who Wolfgang has long complained have been marginalized by the Connecticut Republican establishment, without losing more voters who support abortion rights.
“When abortion comes up in Connecticut, Democrats snap to attention, and Republicans wet themselves. And Bob is the first Republican in 20 years that I’ve seen to actually seize the initiative and flip the script with that statement,” Wolfgang said.
In a written statement issued Wednesday, Stefanowski said, “under no circumstances will I as Governor attempt to change the existing law. A woman’s right to choose has been, is, and will remain codified in Connecticut State Law, including Connecticut’s ban on late-term abortions — except in the case where the mother’s health is at risk.”
Stefanowski, consistent with his position in 2018, also broke with Lamont on the issue of requiring parental notification for a minor to obtain an abortion — an addition Wolfgang sees as a gesture to social conservatives.
“Consistent with the majority of other states, Connecticut should consider a parental notification requirement for minors under 16 seeking an abortion, except in the case of rape or incest,” Stefanowski said.
Democrats seized on the ambiguity in Stefanowski’s statement: He promised not to personally seek changes restricting an adult woman’s access to abortion without saying if he would oppose or veto them.
Wolfgang acknowledged the wiggle room in Stefanowski’s statement about parental notification: The candidate said the state should “consider” such a measure, not that he would propose or support one.
“Would you love to see him say that he supports parental notification in a more active voice? I would definitely love to see it,” Wolfgang said. “But I, again, I’m reading that statement against the backdrop of what the Republicans have been saying in the week or two since the Dobbs leak.”
The leak of a draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization suggests a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court is prepared to overturn Roe, the 49-year-old landmark case that struck down state bans on abortions before fetal viability.
“When Republicans don’t answer the abortion issue, as I think they’ve been doing since the Dobbs leak, it’s a lose-lose,” Wolfgang said. “You’re telling pro-lifers that you’re not with us and you’re telling pro-choicers that you have something to hide. It just never works.”
Wolfgang, a featured speaker at an abortion protest that drew 2,000 to the state Capitol in March, acknowledged that the bar may be relatively low for getting a good grade from the anti-abortion movement in Connecticut, a heavily Catholic state that nonetheless has been consistently supportive of abortion rights.
It is one of a few states that has affirmatively declared a woman’s right to an abortion. A 1990 law provides that “the decision to terminate a pregnancy prior to the viability of the fetus shall be solely that of the pregnant woman in consultation with her physician.”
“If you’re pro-life in the state of Connecticut, you are very much grading on a curve,” said Wolfgang, who branded Stefanowski’s position that of “a pro-choice moderate.”
Stefanowski has been careful in his statements about abortion, an issue unmentioned in his acceptance speech last week.
He has yet to submit to public questioning about abortion, instead communicating with the press and voters by written statements that initially downplayed the issue as a matter of settled law in Connecticut. His campaign offered no reaction to Wolfgang’s assessment.
“I think Bob’s statement speaks for itself,” said Liz Kurantowicz, the senior adviser to the Stefanowski campaign.
Stefanowski has refused to take a position on a new law declaring Connecticut a “safe harbor” against lawsuits against out-of-state women seeking abortions here or the abortion providers.
His running mate, Rep. Laura Devlin of Fairfield, voted for it, and his opponent, Lamont, signed it into law.
Wolfgang said he had no idea why Stefanowski has refused to take a position.
“I’ll take his silence over Devlin’s affirmative vote for it,” Wolfgang said.
Wolfgang said Devlin’s vote, which she says was cast without consulting Stefanowski, brought no abortion-rights voters to the fold, while turning off some opponents.
“I think Rep. Devlin put Bob in a very difficult position by voting in favor of that bill. I know that Rep. Devlin is pro choice,” he said. “I know that she understands the difference between pro-choice and pro-life. I’m not sure if she understands the difference between pro-choice moderate and being more extreme on abortion. Because that was an extreme vote.”
Devlin could not be reached for comment Thursday. No parental notification bill in her tenure has cleared even the low hurdle of a committee vote scheduling a public hearing.
Connecticut law requires a minor seeking an abortion to be counseled about the alternatives to abortion, including adoption, and the possibility of consulting her parents. About three dozen other states require either consent or notification, with some ability to bypass the requirement in the case of abusive parents.
In 2018 and in comments this week, Lamont indicated a comfort with Connecticut’s approach. At a visit to a tulip farm in Preston on Thursday, a WTNH reporter asked how he would feel about a 13-year-old getting an abortion without parental consent.
“I don’t think you can regulate and have laws for each and every eventuality,” Lamont said, according to audio provided by the governor’s office. “My instinct is that 98% of people, younger people, talk to their parents. If they feel comfortable, they feel like it’s safe, it’s the right thing to do.”
Abortions by females younger than 15 are rare.
Of the more than 9,000 abortions in Connecticut in 2019, 20 were performed on girls 14 or younger and 788 on patients 15 to 19, according to the most recent statistics available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nationally, the percentage of abortions involving females from 15-19 fell steadily from 14.6% in 2010 to 8.7% in 2019, a 40% drop over a decade.