Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, and Republican George Logan disagreed Tuesday at their first debate over whether Congress should pass federal legislation restoring the abortion rights taken away in June by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Logan said he did not believe that a federal right to abortion supported by Hayes and President Joe Biden would pass constitutional muster, articulating a difference on abortion after longstanding efforts to neutralize it as a wedge issue.
“I’m going to abide by the ruling from the Supreme Court. I don’t believe Congress, constitutionally speaking, has the ability to do that,” Logan told reporters after the debate, when pressed repeatedly for his position.
Hayes favors federal legislation codifying the tenets of Roe v. Wade in federal law, as the Connecticut General Assembly did in state law in 1990. Codification means affirming a legal right to abortion up to the viability of the fetus.
When the court issued its Roe opinion in 1973, the ability of a fetus to survive outside the womb generally occurred at 28 weeks. With medical advances, viability is now considered possible at 23 or 24 weeks.
In a speech earlier Tuesday aimed at drawing a contrast with Republicans in the final weeks of the mid-term campaign, Biden said an abortion rights bill would be his first priority in January if Democrats hold their slim majorities.
“If Republicans win a majority in the House, this will never see the light of day,” Hayes said.
The debate Tuesday night at the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury was televised live on WTNH, Channel 8. CPTV plans to televise their second debate Thursday from Central Connecticut State University.
National Republicans have invested heavily in Logan’s campaign, one of the GOP’s best chances to flip a seat in New England, where the only Republican member of Congress is Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
Logan, 53, the only Black Republican in the state Senate during a two-term tenure that ended with his defeat in 2020, is trying to unseat Hayes, 49, a Waterbury school teacher when elected in 2018 as one of the first two Black women elected to Congress from New England.
The Republican has labored to minimize differences with Hayes on who was more steadfast in defending abortion, opposing a proposal by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for a federal ban on abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy.
“I support a woman’s right to choose,” Logan said.
Logan has made a gesture to social conservatives, saying that he was opposed to late-term abortions, a political term with no legal or medical definition, and he favored requiring parental notification for a minor to get an abortion.
“I’m running for congress, and I support a woman’s right to choose, full stop,” Hayes said. “People don’t have to worry about nuances of where I stand.”
Logan said he was the victim of false ads questioning his commitment to abortion rights.
But after the debate, Logan hedged when asked about codifying Roe, the landmark that prohibited states from outlawing abortions before fetal viability for nearly 50 years.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has made their decision to bring that issue to the states. And I support that decision. And that’s my stance on that,” Logan said.
So, that means he would oppose codification?
“I haven’t seen the details,” he replied.
When reminded that the Roe standard was not complicated, Logan said he doubted a federal abortion law would be constitutional.
“If someone tells me that’s not the case, we can have another discussion. But that’s my take on it right now,” Logan replied.
Legal experts differ on the constitutionality of a federal abortion law.
The Tenth Amendment mandates that all powers not enumerated and delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states. But, as the Congressional Research Service noted in July, “Congress has historically used the Commerce Clause as authority to enact abortion-related legislation.”
The debate reflected the dynamics of the campaign.
Hayes embraced the major legislation passed during her second term, especially provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act that lifted a prohibition on Medicare negotiating prescription drug prices, provided billions in funding for the mitigation of climate change, and imposed a minimum corporate tax of 15%.
“I have done these things,” Hayes said. “You have stated you would not have voted for these things.”
Logan has said he would not have voted for the Inflation Reduction Act, calling it too expensive.
Dennis House, the WTNH anchor who was the sole questioner, noted that two Bristol police officers were just killed by a man who ambushed them using a high-powered military-style rifle.
Should such weapons be banned? he asked.
“Yes, there should be a national ban on assault weapons,” Hayes replied, noting that police often are outgunned. Her husband is a Waterbury police officer.
Logan did not directly answer the question about a ban, instead saying he supported police by voting against a police accountability law passed by the General Assembly in 2020, his last year in office.
“We are less safe under the Biden-Harris administration,” he said.
Hayes said the police accountability bill opposed by Logan encouraged the use of body cameras. In Bristol, she said, body-camera video quickly proved that the surviving officer was legally justified in fatally shooting the attacker.
“Police officers are my friends, my family,” Hayes said. “This is not a political game for me.”
Logan repeatedly tied Hayes to Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while calling himself a political moderate who would act independently if elected to Congress.
“She’s had four years to make a difference,” Logan said of Hayes. “She represents more of the same.”
He would not be drawn into a debate with Hayes about the support he has enjoyed from Republicans like Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, an election denier and Trump loyalist.
After the debate, Hayes said Logan was no moderate. He is running up political debts to Republicans like Stefanik and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who have raised money or directed independent expenditures on his behalf.
“A moderate doesn’t have Elise Stefanik here. A moderate doesn’t have Kevin McCarthy here. A moderate does not go on Tucker Carlson to share his message,” Hayes said. “He has inextricably connected himself to national Republican leadership. They are propping up his campaign with millions of dollars. A moderate does not do that.”