Connecticut Senate Passes Abortion Bill After Emotional Debate; Governor Lamont promises signature – Hartford Courant
HARTFORD — Months before a key U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the state Senate held an emotional debate Friday night before approving a major abortion law that would be Connecticut’s most sweeping in 32 years.
The bipartisan bill would increase the number of medical professionals permitted to perform abortions in Connecticut and expand abortion-related protections with respect to lawsuits.
After three hours of debate, the Senate voted just before midnight by a vote of 25 to 9, with two Republicans absent.
The often emotional, personal, and impassioned debate included opposition from some members of the Legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, who said they were inspired by a freshman in the legislature, Rep. Trenee McGee of West Haven, who recently spoke impassioned before he voted against the law.
The state House of Representatives recently voted 87-60 in favor of the measure, and Gov. Ned Lamont has pledged to sign it into law.
Lawmakers discussed the detailed, seven-page bill in a rare discussion in the Capitol late Friday night, as the state’s 1990 abortion law has remained largely unchanged for three decades.
One of the key provisions of the bill would expand the number of medical specialists authorized to provide abortion services and allow licensed registered nurses, physician assistants and midwives with advanced practice to perform medication and aspiration abortions in the first trimester.
Connecticut would become the 15th state to admit a wider range of medical professionals, including New York, California, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
Sen. Douglas McCrory, a Hartford Democrat who supported the bill, said he has been in the legislature for 17 years and has heard many speeches. One of the best, he said, was recently published by a newcomer to the legislature, Rep. Trenee McGee of West Haven, on the subject of abortion. He said she found that black women make up only 12% of the population but perform 38% of abortions.
“She said it’s used as a birth control in our community,” McCrory said. “I’m just giving you the facts. You make your own decision. … Rep. McGee peeled the scab off of something. Yes she has.”
McCrory, who later voted for the law, added: “Anyone who knows me knows I stay in my lane. … The issue of women’s rights – I won’t touch that. Women should do what they want with their bodies.”
Senator Patricia Billie Miller, a Stamford Democrat, and others spoke passionately in the Senate about Margaret Sanger, the founding of Planned Parenthood, and the history of abortion.
“Babies were taken from black mothers, African mothers, during slavery,” she said. “This is the story that black women and Native American women have had to endure. … There is no way I can accept a system that deliberately takes a baby away from a mother. … Yes, they sterilized men too. It wasn’t just women.”
Miller noted that lawmakers often say the brain is still developing up until age 25 when discussing issues like juvenile justice.
“We say if an 18-year-old wants to have an abortion, she can have it. … It makes me think,” Miller said. “My friends who had abortions when they were 18 … and it still bothers them. … I’m not going to stand here and support a system designed to take advantage of people who didn’t know any better.”
She said some women who are now in their 60s and 70s are still depressed because they had an abortion decades ago.
“I know I won’t be the most popular person after tonight,” Miller told her colleagues. “[McGee] said abortion is birth control in the black community. That’s right. … I hear family planning – code word for abortion. Why can’t that be a code word for family planning?”
Miller added, “I agree it’s her body to make the choice. … I cannot support a system that has systematically attempted to get rid of a race of people. … Sorry, this is about racism and that’s how I see it. … I’m sorry if I’m emotional … but that goes back to Africa for me. … This goes deeper than just the election. … Sometimes we don’t have a choice because we don’t have any money.”
The next speaker, Sen. Marilyn Moore of Bridgeport, said her heart was racing as she stood to speak because of her emotions on the subject. She was a Planned Parenthood staffer for eight years and said she helped women get mammograms.
“I knew about Ms. Sanger,” she said. “What I learned at Planned Parenthood was how much racism and distrust there is in the medical system. … People talk about why black people don’t want to get vaccinated because we had medical apartheid. … Right now I don’t feel good about this bill.”
Moore said, “Planned Parenthood needs to step up and say we need to do better.”
Opening the debate, Senator Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat, said Connecticut needed to act on the pending lawsuit in the Supreme Court.
“We have to think about what we’re going to do when that time comes,” Winfield told colleagues in a debate that started at 8:48 p.m. Friday.
Sen. Saud Anwar, a South Windsor Democrat who is a doctor, said that if someone had told him five years ago that the state Senate would debate abortion, “I would laugh at them… but here we are.”
With abortions restricted in several states like Texas, Anwar predicted, “We’re going to be a haven for a lot of people.”
Abortion advocates are deeply concerned that the US Supreme Court this year could overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling – meaning all 50 states would individually decide abortion rules in their jurisdictions.
Another important provision in the bill would allow Connecticut to protect the medical records of women traveling here from states like Texas and Louisiana. The information would also be protected from subpoenas in other states.
In addition, if a Connecticut resident is sued under a Texas-style abortion law, the bill would give them the right to a counterclaim to recover reimbursement, attorneys’ fees and costs. A “clawback” provision would protect Connecticut residents from Texas Senate Bill 8, which allows Texas individuals to sue a doctor who performs an abortion in Connecticut. The bill will change the state’s extradition law so residents of Connecticut cannot be subpoenaed by other states, lawmakers said.
“What’s happening in other states is an assault on women’s health,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk. “What I see is mostly men who look like me” offering legislation to limit abortion in other states.
Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, a longtime New Haven attorney, said the bill would result in “preventing a legal mess that could happen in our country.”
Sen. John Kissel of Enfield, the senior Senate Republican on the Legislative Branch Judiciary Committee, said voters in his district hold strong views on both ends of the abortion spectrum.
“We could debate for days about when life begins, but I’m not going to do that,” said Kissel, who has served in the Senate for 30 years. “All of these are tough moral questions, religious questions, technological questions, but I’m not going to get into those.”
Kissel, who opposed the bill Friday night, said he once offered a parental notification bill for minors receiving an abortion, but the measure never passed.
“Proponents of the pro-choice idea were upset that we even had a public hearing,” Kissel said. “People are very passionate about both sides of this issue.”
He added: “We are a kind of state right now that is alive and well and protecting women’s rights.”
Senator Heather Somers, the senior Senate Republican on the Public Health Committee, said the bill protects Connecticut’s medical professionals from being sued by another state.
“It’s a bit outrageous that another state thinks they can come into our state and sue clinicians,” said Somers, who backed the bill.
Senator Henri Martin, a Bristol Republican, said: “Some are here tonight to defend the rights of the unborn. … This will be an ongoing struggle.”
Sen. Dennis Bradley, a Bridgeport Democrat, said only two medics testified before the Judiciary Committee and both questioned the bill. He said lawmakers didn’t collect enough empirical data in the process to make their decision.
“By moving forward in this way and not flushing things out in committee … I think we should all proceed with caution,” Bradley said.
But Anwar said about 100 people testified on the public health aspects of abortion under a separate bill that was included in the final bill.
Amanda Skinner, a nurse and midwife who serves as the chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, recently said the law was necessary because some women are now waiting more than two weeks for a first-trimester abortion since it’s due medical care providers lack.
“Access to abortion is at stake,” Skinner told reporters in Hartford. “Connecticut needs to be a state where abortion is acceptable without shame, stigma or fear.
Democratic lawmakers say some Texas patients have already traveled to Planned Parenthood in Hartford’s North End, but they couldn’t say how many patients arrived from overseas.
Along with the Catholic Conference, the Family Institute of Connecticut is one of the leading lobbyists against this issue. The institute was pushing for a constitutional amendment to favor abortion rights, but insiders said the amendment is unlikely to go to a vote.
“Abortion is the most sacred of their unholy sacraments,” the institute told its supporters in an email. “And please pray. Whatever victories we have, should God grant them to us, they ultimately belong to Him. Please pray for the defeat of all…these bills.”
After the vote, West Hartford Rep. Jillian Gilchrest said Connecticut is taking a step forward based on national trends.
“As states like Oklahoma continue to enact extreme anti-abortion laws and as we see the overthrow of Roe v. Expecting Wade in June, Connecticut is at the forefront of protecting reproductive rights,” she said. “Although Roe is codified into our state law and abortion remains legal here, that doesn’t mean we’re fully protected or that everyone has access. This bill is critical as we prepare for a post-Roe America.”
Christopher Keating can be reached at [email protected]