Connecticut Lawmakers Push to Codify Abortion in State Constitution, Pay for Out-of-State Residents
But local pro-lifers are pushing back strongly, and predict that the abortion lobby’s extremism will galvanize public opposition to their legislative overreach.
HARTFORD — In the wake of last year’s Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Connecticut General Assembly is debating two proposals that would enshrine abortion as a right in the state constitution, and require state taxpayers to fund non-Connecticut residents seeking an abortion.
Critics say both moves are unjustified, in a state where abortion is already available with few restrictions.
“The Dobbs decision propelled the abortionists in Connecticut with a quandary — what more can they push for in a state with prevalent abortion services?” said Chris Healy, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, the local Church’s state public policy and advocacy office. “[This is] a cynical attempt to glorify Connecticut as a national center for the taking of human life.”
The proposed constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution No. 8, introduced by Rep. Keith Denning, D-Wilton, would “allow for reproductive freedom by permitting a person, in consultation with such person’s physician, the choice to have an abortion under the state Constitution.”
Abortion rights have been secured by state law since 1990, and last July, Connecticut became a “safe harbor” for abortion seekers, with lawmakers enacting sweeping legislation to protect the practice following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision. The legislation expanded the “right to an abortion,” while Connecticut became one of a dozen states to allow abortion until the “fetus can live independently outside the womb.” However, amending the state constitution would protect reproductive rights from the whims of any political party in power, according to Rep. Denning.
“I met hundreds of people who felt betrayed by our national change by the Supreme Court to protect the right to an abortion,” Denning told the Register as to the rationale behind proposing the amendment during this session. “While we have laws that protect a women’s right to an abortion, people realize that with a change in party, the protection could be removed here in Connecticut and they would lose the right.”
While he has not yet voiced his support for the proposed amendment, Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, has been a staunch advocate of abortion access saying, “As long as I am governor, reproductive rights will be protected in Connecticut, and I will do everything in my power to block laws from being passed that restrict those rights.”
His recent budget proposal solidifies that commitment, saying he recognizes the “inequity that now exists in this nation with access to reproductive rights.” Lamont is asking lawmakers to approve a “one-time $2 million pool of state-only funding” to defray transportation, lodging and contraceptive costs for “individuals who come to Connecticut for such services because these services are restricted in their states.”
The abortion amendment has been referred to the Joint Committee on Public Health, while Lamont’s $2 million request, titled House Bill No. 6618, awaits further discussion. The sponsor of the latter, Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, did not respond to the Register’s inquiry for comment about the legislation.
Taxpayer Funded ‘Abortion Tourism’?
On Feb. 28, the Human Services Committee held a public hearing on H.B. No. 6618. More than 400 people testified with the overwhelming majority opposing the legislation, including Lisa Maloney, president of the Connecticut Pregnancy Care Coalition (CPCC), which consists of pregnancy resource centers across the state. In her written testimony, she sympathized with not only those “damaged” by abortion, but also with citizens struggling financially like her mother who lives on a fixed income.
“The only group that will benefit from this taxpayer money will be the abortion clinics,” Maloney told the Register. “[This bill] will make it easier for the sex-traffic industry to continue to hide at taxpayers’ expense.”
She added, “In a state where many are making the difficult decision on what to pay, the $2 million could be used in ways that are more beneficial to Connecticut residents.”
Last year, CPCC served 3,610 clients and credits saving Connecticut more than $2.8 million by providing pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, sexually transmitted infections (STI) tests, material assistance and educational classes.
Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, expressed similar concerns in his testimony, as well as to the Register. Since a draft of the Dobbs decision leaked in February 2022, Wolfgang has felt Connecticut pro-choice activists have ramped up their efforts to pass legislation protecting abortion and placating their supporters.
“There have been a series of revenge bills by the pro-abortion industry here in Connecticut ever since Roe v. Wade was overturned,” he told the Register. “There’s been a constant stream of ‘therapy’ bills for the pro-abortion movement because they are so beside themselves that they cannot get over the shock.”
Along with the fundamental immorality of abortion, those opposing H.B. No. 6618 find the bill, as currently written, objectionable for many reasons.
Pennsylvania is the nearest state to Connecticut deemed “hostile” by the Center for Reproductive Rights; however, New York and New Jersey are closer to it than the Nutmeg State — and both have “expanded access” to abortions, according to the organization. This generates the question, among the bill’s opponents, of why non-residents would travel to Connecticut when another state, with similar legal openness to abortion, could be a destination instead.
Meanwhile, the $2 million allocated would be distributed in a reimbursement plan, meaning non-residents seeking abortions must initially pay for their own travel, stay and procedure.
Most egregious from Wolfgang’s perspective, Connecticut residents could potentially subsidize sex traffickers to “hide evidence of their crimes.”
“[Pro-choice legislators] are worried this will turn into abortion tourism, even the governor who doesn’t agree with us on the underlying issue of abortion, you can tell even they are concerned that what we have here is an abortion tourism bill,” Wolfgang told the Register.
Wolfgang expects a toned-down version of the bill to pass, saying lawmakers will “do something less than the original intent of this bill and still proclaim victory.” Meanwhile, he anticipates the abortion amendment to gain more momentum next session.
As for the amendment’s legislative viability, Healy told the Register it is “simply panic by abortionists,” adding, “This was expected and we will defeat it.” However, for this legislative session, the focus is primarily on the “abortion tourism” legislation, which — like Wolfgang — he believes is not supported by even pro-choice lawmakers as currently written.
“Many pro-choice supporters do not support this because it is extreme and diverts precious tax dollars that should be used for health care for in-state Connecticut residents,” Healy told the Register. “The funds, under the state HUSKY program, are designed to help the poorest and most underserved populations. Using them lure women from other states to terminate life has other problems, because many of these women are here from dire circumstances — as victims of violence and human trafficking.”
A More ‘Nuanced’ Issue
Lawmakers also should be wary of misreading the state electorate and concluding they have a broad pro-abortion mandate. A May 2022 WTNH-News 8 public opinion poll found views about abortion are more nuanced among Nutmeggers than the simple “pro-life” and “pro-choice” designations — with 9% of state residents saying it should be illegal in all cases, 23% wanting to prohibit them except in cases of rape, incest or life/health of the mother, 14% supported a cutoff at six weeks, 20% said it should be legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, and only 34% said abortion should be legal in all cases.
Meanwhile, a national poll released in January and conducted by the Connecticut-based Knights of Columbus — along with Marist Poll — revealed that 69% of Americans supported limiting abortion to, at most, the first three months of pregnancy.
Despite the proposed expansion in abortion rights, the practice itself has been on the decline in Connecticut prior to Dobbs, according to the Connecticut Catholic Conference. In its 13th Annual Report about “The State of Abortion in Connecticut,” the conference noted that Connecticut experienced a 32% decline in the number of reported abortions between 2010-2019, while total reported abortions declined by 37% from a high of 14,534 in 2007. The report also finds abortion rates across all age groups have seen a “significant decline,” including abortions performed on minors under 18 years old. Additionally, most reported abortions are performed in abortion facilities, not in hospitals or doctors’ offices.
Marching for Life
With the second annual state March for Life scheduled for March 22, Wolfgang and other pro-life activists are expecting thousands to demonstrate at the Capitol in light of the abortion proposals under consideration. And he hopes that one day, Connecticut will remove the 1990 law that has protected abortion in the state.
“It’s energizing us,” Wolfgang told the Register. “We were so loud last year that the House of Representatives had to suspend their session until we were done because they could hear our cheers inside the building.”
Since the Dobbs decision, he added, “States like Connecticut are now on the frontlines — now the battle is going to be in state capitols like Hartford.”
Wolfgang will be among the nearly 10 speakers to address attendees, along with Bishop Juan Miguel Betancourt (Archdiocese of Hartford), Christina Bennett (Live Action News Correspondent and member of the National Black Pro-Life Coalition), as well as Healy. When asked how the proposals will impact the pro-life movement going forward, Healy told the Register, “These bills have motivated many pro-life activists to get back into the fight and we are optimistic they will be defeated.”