A trio at odds on an abortion bill: House Speaker Matt Ritter and House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora consult on legislative business. At left, Rep. Geraldo Reyes. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

A text message to some voters in East Windsor and Enfield made a startling claim about their Republican state representative: “Carol Hall voted to help prosecute women in other states for having an abortion.”

Sent by a political action committee controlled by the House Democratic leadership, the text refers to a vote against a law that, among other things, offers a safe harbor to abortion patients and providers against out-of-state legal claims.

The text was deemed misleading Monday by House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, and Rep. Geraldo Reyes, D-Waterbury, the leader of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.

Reyes and a dozen other Black and Puerto Rican Caucus members, 10 in the House and three in the Senate, also voted against passage. All are Democrats, and Reyes and two others are deputies to House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford.

The abortion bill was a combination of two measures, one that created the safe harbor and a second that allows medical providers other than doctors to perform first-trimester abortions.

[RELATED: CT is now a ‘safe harbor’ for abortion seekers. What does that mean?]

Reyes said he and most, if not all, members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus favored the protections against out-of-state lawsuits but opposed the section that redefined who can provide abortions in Connecticut.

“It should be a doctor,” said Reyes, who added that equating a negative vote with favoring prosecution of women would be “out of context” and “absolutely presumptuous.”

Hall said she had the same position as Reyes and many of the Democrats who voted against the bill.

Ritter defended using the vote against Hall, while acknowledging that three of his deputies and other members of the House Democratic majority cast the same vote.

“There’s no question that it’s a little awkward when, you know, you might have some members of your caucus that also voted against it,” Ritter said.

Candelora said Democrats are willing to mislead voters on abortion.

“What this speaks to is that the Democrats have weaponized abortion to a point where they’re doing a disservice to everyone,” Candelora said.

Hall, who lives in Enfield and represents a 59th House District, covering portions of Enfield and East Windsor, said she was willing to vote for a narrower measure focused on the legal protections, even if she suspected the motivation was to create a campaign issue, not to protect women.

The text message sent to constituents of Rep. Carol Hall, R-Enfield, by the Connecticut Majority Team PAC directed by House majority leadership.

“For me, it was a typical campaign attempt at a gotcha kind of vote. It came at the end of session. We all know what the intent of the bill was — was to just use in campaigns,” Hall said.

Like every other House Republican, she voted for a Republican amendment that would have preserved safe-harbor language while striking the section allowing advanced practice nurses, nurse midwives and physician assistants from performing abortions.

(There was disagreement over the significance of redefining in statute who can provide abortions by aspiration, the most common method of first-trimester abortions. Under a legal opinion from the attorney general, some of those advanced practitioners already were performing abortions in Connecticut.)

The House rejected the GOP amendment on a party-line vote then passed the bill, 87-60, with 80 Democrats and seven Republicans in favor and 14 Democrats and 46 Republicans opposed. 

The bill won final passage in the Senate on a vote of 25-9, with 20 Democrats and five Republicans in support and three Democrats and six Republicans opposed.

Passage came in April, inspired by Texas law permitting citizens to sue anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. It essentially bars Connecticut from cooperating with such lawsuits, as well as from honoring extradition orders if there ever are criminal prosecutions of anyone helping another to get an out-of-state abortion.

Two months later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and Texas outlawed all abortions except in life-threatening emergencies. Connecticut is now in the minority of states where abortion is legal under the framework of Roe, up to fetal viability.

Whether the new Connecticut law is necessary to protect women from prosecution “in other states for having an abortion,” as alleged by the House Democratic text message, is unknown.

Texas law imposes harsh criminal penalties for providing or aiding abortions but not against women who get them, according to the ACLU of Texas. 

Unresolved is whether states that ban abortions can legally punish women for leaving the state to get one or punish those who assist them. An assessment by Poynter, the media institute, was that the Supreme Court could go either way.

House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said such a prosecution remains at least hypothetically possible, so a vote against the Connecticut safe harbor law might expose a woman to legal jeopardy some day.

“In the absence of this law, it’s possible that a woman coming here for those services could be prosecuted,” Rojas said. “Therefore, voting against this bill … certainly presents the opportunity for that to actually happen.”

Hall appears to be the only target of a Democratic text message equating opposition to the abortion bill with assisting the prosecution of women. Ritter said the leadership PAC consults with its candidates about the issues it highlights.

“Reproductive rights has become a major focal point, I think, since the Supreme Court decision,” Ritter said. “And so when our candidates are out door-knocking or making phone calls, especially in those districts where it’s the No. 1 or No. 2 issue there, there’s been a push to make people’s recorded vote on that bill public.”

Mass text messages are a relatively new tool of modern campaigns, joining direct mail and digital advertising as communication methods that can be targeted more precisely than broadcast or newspaper advertising.

One reason for targeting Hall is her self-description as “pro life” and her sponsorship of bills deemed hostile by proponents of reproductive rights, including a measure that would have mandated women get an ultrasound before an abortion.

“I am pro life 100% for myself,” Hall said Monday. “I am not willing to take another woman’s decision away from her or her doctor or between her, her doctor and her God. Those are all her decisions. I am not going to legislate those decisions for another woman. I can tell you, I am absolutely pro life. I’ve been faced with those kinds of decisions in my life and have always made that decision.”

Her Democratic opponent, Matthew Despard, has advertised his strong support of abortion rights and opposition to the overturning of Roe, but he was unsure if any campaign communications other than the text cited Hall’s vote against the abortion law or her proposal to mandate ultrasounds to get an abortion.

The text sent by the Connecticut Majority Team PAC carried a joint disclosure noting it was paid for by the PAC and approved by Despard.

“I am pro choice, defend choice. My opponent, I believe, if given the opportunity will take it away,” Despard said. “And so that’s the general message that we are certainly putting out there.”

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

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.