Attorney General William Tong said he would add a new position - special counsel for reproductive rights - to his office. Mark Pazniokas / CT Mirror

With less than a month before the election, Attorney General William Tong and Democratic legislators are highlighting new resources the state is adding to support abortion rights in Connecticut — a theme the party has stuck to closely since the reversal of Roe v. Wade in June.

Tong’s office will hire a special counsel for reproductive rights. Though abortion remains legal in Connecticut, officials pointed to a bill recently introduced by U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina that would impose a federal ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The measure divided Republicans, and Democratic leaders said they would not allow it to get a vote in the Senate.

Still, Tong said the demise of Roe v. Wade was “the beginning of an assault” on pregnant people and health care providers.

“We expect this to be an active space legally,” he said of the reproductive rights domain. “There could be a lot of work as the law develops on this. It’s hard for us to forecast how they’re going to come at us. We just know that they are because they’ve already said they will. For example, if [anti-abortion lawmakers] retake the [U.S.] Senate and the first bill they file is a federal ban on abortion, we’re going to need help with that.

“There is utterly no basis for the federal government to pass a federal ban on abortion … and if they try it, Connecticut will be the first to sue.”

Patients and providers here will also have access to a hotline, launched in New York, where they can get free legal advice. Attorneys from Connecticut and New York are offering their services pro bono as part of the effort. The phone number is 212-899-5567.

“If you need to know your rights, if you need access to legal representation, if you’re unsure about whether you’re at risk, you can call this hotline,” Tong said Tuesday, flanked by Democratic Reps. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, and others. “Some of the biggest law firms in the world are part of this. … A number of big Connecticut firms are also a part of this effort. They’re ready to provide pro bono legal services. It is an army of lawyers.”

Since August, Tong has convened a working group of physicians, lawyers, abortion rights advocates and legislators to identify gaps in existing law and services, and to suggest areas of reform.

In the upcoming legislative session that begins in January, the group has recommended developing proposals on funding for abortion clinic security, protections against disclosure of pregnancy status, protections against increases in medical malpractice insurance rates for those who properly perform legal abortions, and the expansion of Medicaid to include undocumented children over age 12.

Tong said he will work with lawmakers to support “a legislative agenda that protects access to safe, legal and accessible abortion.”

Zari Watkins, chief operating officer for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, said the organization has treated about 75 out-of-state patients since Texas in September 2021 outlawed abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

“In the last few months, we’ve seen patients traveling from states that have banned abortion across the South and Midwest, including from as far as 1,500 miles away,” she said. “These bans disproportionately harm Black, Latino, Indigenous and other people of color, people of low income, as well as others who face systemic marginalization. In a country with one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, Black women will be hit the hardest by these dangerous attacks on bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom. We know there’s still more work that needs to be done right here in Connecticut to address systemic barriers.

“Things like the rising cost of health care, accessibility of insurance coverage, especially for undocumented residents, structural racism, misogyny, availability of abortion providers, and abortion shame and stigma are just some factors that keep abortion out of reach for even the people here in Connecticut.”

Tong’s office also posted an in-depth brief explaining Connecticut’s abortion law and a “Know Your Rights” fact sheet.

State Republican legislators criticized the announcement on Tuesday, saying that Democrats “continue to weaponize the topic of women’s reproductive health by stepping in front of television cameras to double down on their false narrative that elected Republicans and candidates here are threatening a health care choice that’s enshrined in Connecticut law.”

Republican candidates in major races, including the governor’s race, have pledged to maintain the state’s abortion laws.

“They’re doing it because they’ve failed miserably on the affordability and public safety concerns that we’re hearing about as we knock on doors in our communities,” House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said. “Majority Democrats don’t have a plan to reduce the cost of living in Connecticut or make our neighborhoods safer.”

“Unfortunately, anyone who is looking to Democrats to get serious about those issues will find them solely fixated on using women’s reproductive health care as a campaign tool,” he said. “Meanwhile, residents are understandably worried about how they’ll afford to heat their homes and pay for groceries.”

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.