Bob Stefanowski telling reporters Friday that he misspoke about abortion during a television interview aired Thursday. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

With a self-described gaffe during a television interview broadcast Thursday night, Republican Bob Stefanowski gave Democrats a fresh opportunity to question his oft-stated commitment to defending Connecticut’s law affirming abortion is legal.

“I misspoke,” Stefanowski told reporters at a press conference Friday, not long after issuing a similar statement. “Anybody who’s followed me knows my position: Connecticut law is gonna stay where it is.”

During a one-hour special on WFSB in which Stefanowski and Gov. Ned Lamont sat for separate 30-minute interviews, the Republican tried to contrast his position with what he says is Lamont’s openness to abortions without limit.

“I think abortion should be limited to the first trimester,” Stefanowski said. “I’d love you to ask Gov. Lamont whether he sees any limitations on it whatsoever, because he’s supported Richard Blumenthal’s bill, which would have allowed abortion right up to the point of conception.”

On Friday, Stefanowski said he misspoke twice in the same answer: First, he favors allowing abortion until viability, which occurs in the second trimester, generally around 24 weeks; Second, he was trying to accuse Democrats of favoring abortion up to delivery, not conception.

Democrats, who have been trying to sow doubts about the sincerity of Stefanowski’s insistence during two campaigns for governor that he is “pro choice,” pounced Thursday night and Friday morning. 

Taking what he said at face value — a first-trimester limit banning abortion after 12 weeks — the Lamont campaign said, “he has finally come clean and admitted he wants to restrict access to abortion in our state.”

On Friday, they pivoted and said even a misstatement of that magnitude itself was disqualifying. 

“The people of Connecticut want someone who knows that words matter,” Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz told reporters on a hastily arranged Zoom call. “And especially when we’re talking about life and death. That is what this is about.”

Bysiewicz was asked if she believed Stefanowski could have misspoken or was unaware of how long the first trimester of pregnancy is.

“You know what, then you shouldn’t be running for governor,” Bysiewicz said. “This is the biggest campaign issue — or one of the biggest — that we face, and if you can’t get it right after two tries, I don’t even know what to say.”

In his 2018 and 2022 races for governor, Stefanowski pronounced himself as “pro choice,” supportive of the law Connecticut passed in 1990 codifying the framework of Roe v. Wade: abortion is legal up to fetal viability.

Republicans have claimed that the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022 favored by congressional Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, would permit abortion until delivery.

According to 2019 data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 99% of abortions occur at no later than 21 weeks and most far sooner: 79.3% no later than 9 weeks and 92.7% no later than 13 weeks.

Jake Lewis, spokesman for the governor’s campaign, said Stefanowski was peddling a right-wing talking point.

“This is another example of Bob showing us who he is, echoing anti-choice extremists’ rhetoric in an attempt to mislead voters,” Lewis said. “Gov. Lamont supports a woman’s right to choose and the framework established under Roe v. Wade. Bob’s false claims do nothing more than show that his flailing campaign is reaching new levels of desperation.”

Stefanowski declined to say Friday whether he believed a viable baby could be aborted at eight months or later, right up to delivery, without conflicting with criminal law.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “But the governor should say where he stands.”

Stefanowski said he had no regrets for downplaying abortion as an issue during the campaign, dismissing it as a Democratic distraction from inflation, crime and other issues prefers to discuss.

“I know it’s an emotional issue. I know it’s more emotional after Roe v. Wade was overturned,” Stefanowski said. “It’s codified in Connecticut state law. It’s done. This is not a campaign issue.”

Stefanowski made his own pivot, back to saying Democrats are intent on changing the subject.

“They don’t want to talk about the fact that we have the second-highest taxes in the nation,” he said. “Gov. Lamont would rather than lie and say our utility costs are lower than New England. They’re the highest in New England. So they’re using it as a diversion. I have no regrets.”

Stefanowski faults Lamont on police accountability law

Stefanowski, who has promised to loosen use-of-force restrictions in a 2020 law that he says have jeopardized police, faulted Lamont for not responding to his challenge to say whether he would change the law.

“I can only conclude that four officers being shot at and two being tragically killed — he’s not going to do anything about it,” Stefanowski said. “If he is, he should speak up.”

The use-of-force and liability provisions of the police accountability law have made police hesitate, he said. Stefanowski stopped short of blaming the law for the recent murders of two Bristol police officers who were ambushed by a man firing 80 rounds by an AR-15 or similar rifle.

“Did it cause it or not? You really got to talk to the officers,” he said. “I can tell you that we’ve created a culture both in this country and the state where somehow it begins to even be in the realm that we can shoot at police officers. It wasn’t like that five years ago.”

Would he ban possession of a gun like the one used to spray three officers with bullets, killing two and wounding one?

Stefanowski would not say if he would change Connecticut’s gun laws, which ban the sales of military-style weapons but allow their continued possession if purchased before the ban.

“I’m not gonna work in hypotheticals,” he said. “We got the toughest gun laws in the nation. I’m going to enforce them.”

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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.

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Jenna CarlessoHealth Reporter

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.