Top Democrats back abortion access amendment to Connecticut Constitution

For the first time, legislative leaders are backing an amendment guaranteeing reproductive rights and same-sex marriage.

John Craven

Feb 22, 2024, 11:00 PM

Updated 56 days ago

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Should the right to an abortion be added to the Connecticut Constitution? The effort just gained a major boost.
For the first time, legislative leaders are backing an amendment guaranteeing reproductive rights and same-sex marriage.
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT?
After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade dozens of states severely restricted access to abortion. Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos have the same legal rights as children, leading the state's largest hospital system to pause in vitro fertilization treatments.
"We are in a crisis in our country," state Sen. Mae Flexer (D-Killingly) said at a Thursday morning news conference. "Over the last 2 ½ years, so many people's lives have been upended."
Here in Connecticut, abortion rights have been enshrined in state law since 1990, But Thursday, top Democrats in the state Senate said that's no longer enough.
"If anybody thinks that some of these things are settled, they're not settled," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk). "Through this constitutional amendment, we will not only be protecting abortion rights from a swing in control of the General Assembly, but also so many other fundamental freedoms and rights that Connecticut residents expect."
"A LOT OF RESISTANCE?"
Polling shows reproductive rights enjoy widespread support in Connecticut, but opponents think an amendment may be too "extreme" for some Democrats. In 2022, 13 members of the Legislature's Black and Puerto Rican caucus voted against expanding who can perform abortions.
"I think there's a lot of resistance," said Peter Wolfgang, president of the Family Institute of Connecticut. "I understand what they're doing. I understand that this is really about the election – Democrat vs. Republican. But I think this could turn into Democrat vs. Democrat."
But it's not just abortion opponents. As in previous years, a constitutional amendment is also getting a lukewarm response from a surprising group – Planned Parenthood.
"When we put ballot initiatives or questions on the ballot, that takes very crucial resources away from what we really need to be focused on in Connecticut," said Gretchen Raffa, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England's vice president of public policy.
Instead, Raffa plans to push for higher Medicaid reimbursements for reproductive care.
"I think what we really need to be concerned with, and the urgent issue at hand, is improving access to comprehensive reproductive care," she said.
But Democratic leaders said reproductive rights are too important to leave to chance.
"Women across the country have had to make life-and-death choices about accessing basic health care rights like abortion," Flexer said. "People have been forced to carry pregnancies to term that they didn't want to have."
COMPLICATED PROCESS
Amending the state constitution is a long, complicated process. If it passes the legislature by a 75% margin this year – a very high threshold – the question would appear on the November 2025 ballot.
If an amendment passes by less than 75%, lawmakers must approve it again next year. That means voters couldn't weigh in until 2026.
Flexer said the amendment's exact wording is still being negotiated, but it is also expected to address marriage equality, interracial marriage and contraception. Democrats expect to hold a public hearing next month.
OTHER PROTECTIONS
Connecticut has already taken several steps to protect abortion rights, including a first-in-the-nation law shielding patients and providers from legal action in other states.
The state also launched a website and a hotline showing patients where to get the procedure -- and even how to get insurance coverage, transportation and financial help.
The new hotline is 866-CT-CHOICE. It is staffed by an outside vendor.
Lawmakers rejected a $2 million "Safe Harbor Fund" to help pay for out-of-state patients' procedures.


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