Anti-abortion advocates, emboldened by the recent reversal of Roe v. Wade, are setting their sights on what they say is a first step in placing restrictions on Connecticut’s abortion rights: requiring minors to notify their parents when seeking an abortion.
The advocates are calling on lawmakers to draft a bill in the coming legislative session, which begins in January, that would mandate people under 16 to notify their parents prior to getting an abortion.
Though such a proposal has failed in the past, leaders of anti-abortion organizations see new momentum in the wake of the June Supreme Court ruling abolishing the 49-year-old law that guaranteed the right to an abortion nationally. Abortion remains legal in Connecticut because of legislation passed in 1990 codifying Roe v. Wade into state statute.
“There’s a massive mental and almost metaphysical shift involved in the overturning of Roe v. Wade that’s going to affect us, even in a blue state like Connecticut,” said Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut. “No one can claim anymore that there is a right in the United States Constitution to abortion.
“The law is a teacher that’s going to eventually work on people’s minds and their spirits. Over time, I think, they’re going to be more open to the idea that abortion is not some sort of sacrosanct right in the U.S. Constitution but that abortion is a political issue like other political issues.”
Wolfgang and others say their ultimate goal is to repeal the 1990 law legalizing abortion in Connecticut, but they acknowledge the effort could take years or even decades in a liberal state. Democrats maintain strong majorities in the House and Senate, though the legislature is seeing a wave of departures as the fall election approaches.
For now, anti-abortion advocates are pressing for a bill on parental notification. Wolfgang said the requirement would facilitate “parental guidance for such a difficult decision” and would help curb the sexual exploitation of minors. He pointed to the case of Adam Gault, a former dog trainer in West Hartford who was convicted in 2008 of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a teenage girl. The girl’s lawyer said Gault raped and impregnated her, then forced her to have an abortion.
“In Connecticut, you need parental permission to get a body piercing or to go to the suntan parlor. But you can get an abortion without your parents even knowing about it,” Wolfgang said.
“We believe in the sanctity of life, and we also believe in the cohesion, the importance of protecting families,” said Chris Healy, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference. “One way that happens is you instill parental responsibilities and rights in parents to manage and supervise and work with their children to bring them into adulthood.”
Bill O’Brien, vice president of Connecticut Right to Life, hopes more candidates with anti-abortion views will win seats in the General Assembly this fall.
Parental notification “has been tried several times in the past and hasn’t gotten too much traction,” he said. “But, of course, we will have a new legislature next year. We’ll see what happens. We’d like to push it.”
O’Brien said some minors are pressured into having an abortion, and parental notification could bring about support.
“It could be the boyfriend pushing [an abortion], it could be the boyfriend’s parents pushing it because they don’t want him stuck with child support or something,” he said. “It could be a coach, it could be an employer, anybody that’s putting pressure on her. The parents should be aware of that and be able to give her support if she wants to carry that child.”
Thirty-six states require parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. Nine states require parental notification (with one mandating the notification of both parents), 21 require the consent of a parent (with three mandating the consent of both parents), and six require both consent and notification.
The laws vary by state. Some states require identification for parental consent. Others ask for proof of parenthood. Most of the 35 states with these laws allow for judicial bypass, which permits a minor to obtain approval from a court. Some states provide exceptions under certain circumstances, such as a medical emergency, rape or incest.
Leaders of abortion-rights groups oppose these restrictions.
In a post on its website, the American Civil Liberties Union noted that, “most teens who do not involve a parent have very good reasons for not doing so.”
“Many come from families where such an announcement would only exacerbate an already volatile or dysfunctional family situation,” officials from the organization wrote. “Experience shows that teens’ fears are well-founded. For example, one of the very first teens who was forced to notify a parent under Colorado’s parental notice law was kicked out of her home when her mother learned of the pregnancy. Her mother took the money the teen had saved for the abortion and threatened to disown her if she went through with the procedure. When the teen called the clinic to reschedule her appointment, she was living in a friend’s car.
“Far from strengthening her family and helping her make an informed decision, the law ruined her relationship with her mother and left her homeless with an unwanted pregnancy.”
Advocates for Youth, an organization that advocates for abortion and contraception access, reproductive justice and LGBTQ rights and health, among other issues, noted that parental involvement laws disproportionately affect minors from immigrant families.
“[Some] states require parents and youth to provide government-issued identification either at the provider or to obtain notarized consent documentation,” officials wrote on their website. “This poses a barrier to immigrant youth with undocumented parents who fear immigration enforcement as well as to youth who are unaccompanied or whose parents have been detained or deported.”
Other states “require proof of parenthood in the form of a birth certificate to provide parental consent, posing another barrier,” they wrote.
And though judicial bypass is available in most states, many minors are unaware of it or do not understand how to get it, or they may not have the transportation necessary to get to court, the group noted.
“Parental involvement mandates may risk more harm to young people by delaying their medical care,” said Gretchen Raffa, vice president of public policy, advocacy and organizing with Planned Parenthood Votes! Connecticut. “The idea that forcing family communication will help young people – it actually could do the opposite and cause delays to them receiving time-sensitive care that they need.
“From the logistical burdens to the emotional stress, these types of parental involvement laws do the opposite of what advocates for parental involvement actually want them to do.”
Liz Gustafson, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut, said some minors won’t pursue needed services if they are forced to involve a parent.
“Ideally, a young person who faces an unintended pregnancy can seek the advice of a parent in their lives,” she said. “The majority of young people do, in fact, tell a parent about an unplanned pregnancy. But if for whatever reason a young person cannot go to a parent, they should be able to turn to a trusted adult and get the health care and information they need.”
Connecticut’s law requires counseling for minors seeking an abortion, including a suggestion that they consult with a parent or family member.
Legislative leaders say despite the demise of Roe v. Wade, it’s unlikely that abortion restrictions such as parental notification would succeed in Connecticut.
“I don’t foresee the bill getting out of a committee, or maybe not even coming to a vote in the committee, unless it’s offered as an amendment,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, a Democrat from New Haven. “I don’t see it making any headway.”
“As Speaker of the House, no bill could be called without my consent,” said House Speaker Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford. “Would I call that bill? No.
“Not everybody is in a situation where they are able to, because of circumstances, have that relationship or approach their parents. I have always said it’s a woman’s choice, period. And so I would not look to amend the laws we have on the books at all.”
Even so, advocates on both sides of the issue are looking ahead to the election and how it could shift momentum in one direction or the other. Bob Stefanowski, a Republican from Madison who is challenging Gov. Ned Lamont, has pledged support for a parental notification law.
“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 has said.
Lamont, a Democrat, is opposed. “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,” he has said.
Abortion-rights advocates say they’re hoping not to lose ground in November. More than 30 seats in the state legislature are expected to be open this fall.
“Abortion is definitely on the ballot this election,” Raffa said. “It’s more important than ever to get people elected in those open seats … who are going to prioritize comprehensive reproductive health care and protecting and expanding access to abortion, and fight back against anti-abortion politicians who are trying to roll back our rights.”