Connecticut Becomes 1st State to Pass Comprehensive Abortion Safe Haven Law

Interview with Connecticut State Rep. Matt Blumenthal, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

On April 30, reports of a leaked draft of a majority ruling signaled that the U.S. Supreme Court was poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed federal constitutional protections of abortion rights for nearly 50 years. If the court’s justices do overturn Roe, about half the states in the U.S. will ban or severely limit abortion. The state of Connecticut already had strong laws on the books protecting reproductive rights. But with many states and the Supreme Court now moving to remove abortion protections, lawmakers in Connecticut took some additional steps.

On April 29, Connecticut’s Democratic-controlled state Senate gave final approval to the first in the nation comprehensive legislation to make the state an abortion safe haven for patients who live in states moving to ban or restrict access to abortion. The Reproductive Freedom Defense Act, as it’s known, was passed with some bipartisan support in both the General Assembly and Senate. Gov. Ned Lamont signed the bill that will go into effect on July 1st this year.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Connecticut state Rep. Matt Blumenthal, son of senior U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal, D-Connecticut. State Rep. Blumenthal, co-chair of the new Reproductive Rights Caucus in the Connecticut General Assembly, explains what’s in the new law and how Connecticut’s safe haven legislation could be a model for other states supporting reproductive rights.

MATT BLUMENTHAL: So, the law does two things. First, it addresses the providers that can give certain abortion care here in the state of Connecticut. We’re already experiencing somewhat of a provider shortage and we anticipate that if Roe is overruled, which it appears it will be, that we will see increased patients here in Connecticut, which we already have from some of these states that have these laws.

So, the law expands the providers eligible to provide medication and aspiration abortion beyond physicians to APRNs, nurse midwives and certified physicians’ assistants. And in doing that, we’re joining 15 other states around the country that have already passed similar laws.

In addition to that, we passed legal protections that will essentially make Connecticut a safe haven for legal, safe abortion care, and the law does that by a couple of things. First of all, it prevents the state’s investigative machinery from being used to pursue anybody who has either sought or provided or assisted someone else in obtaining abortion care that is legal in Connecticut. And it does that by barring any state agency, any local agency, any law enforcement from cooperating with any out-of-state investigation seeking to impose liability on such conduct. It also bars the courts from enforcing either civil subpoena or criminal summonses against individuals who are being pursued for providing or obtaining or assisting others in obtaining legal abortion care or other reproductive health care here in the state of Connecticut. It creates a private cause of action to allow anyone who is sued under these Texas-style bounty laws to countersue the persecutor here in Connecticut state court and recoup damages, to reimburse them for any damages they faced in the other proceeding, in addition to attorney fees and costs, and it also contains medical privacy protections to ensure that medical records related to reproductive health care here in the state of Connecticut are not shared without certain process and protections.

And in addition to touching on reproductive health care, this law also protects LGBTQ individuals and families against the increasingly punitive laws we’re seeing in places like Texas that are seeking to punish families with trans-kids for getting trans-affirming care for those kids. So, this bill is out at the forefront of what states are doing to protect their residents against these sorts of out-of-state legal attacks.

We’re already seeing that people from Texas are coming to Connecticut to get abortion care that is currently subject to civil liability there. We don’t anticipate we’ll be the Number 1 location; obviously Connecticut is a small state and luckily, we’re kind of surrounded by other states that also are protecting abortion rights. And we’re also going to be a model for other states that may see a greater uptick in individuals coming to their borders to seek care that’s legal there.

MELINDA TUHUS: Was this initiated by the caucus, or were you responding to a lot of pressure, requests from Planned Parenthood and other groups that are concerned about reproductive health care?

MATT BLUMENTHAL: So, this really came from the caucus in cooperation with a lot of the advocates. What happened was, after the U.S. v Texas Supreme Court decision where the Supreme Court refused to block the Texas law, and then the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization oral argument, it became clear to me and I think a number of other people, that the Supreme Court was about to overrule Roe v Wade, so I spoke with one of my colleagues who’s been very active on this issue, Rep. Jillian Gilchrist of West Hartford, and we decided to start this caucus. We started meeting with advocates and law professors to try to plan this out, to address what we saw to be an urgent need. So we worked in coordination with a number of organizations and came up with these legal protections and this measure to provide more providers to provide the care as the top two priorities for now, but we’re going to continue to pursue additional legislation in the future to address other issues.

MELINDA TUHUS: Oh, other issues like what?

MATT BLUMENTHAL: Oh, there are a number of different areas. We want to make sure people are protected. We want to make sure that health care providers’ malpractice insurance and licenses aren’t subject to frivolous complaints or attacks from other states based purely on the fact that they’re providing legal abortion care. We want to make sure that these areas of care are funded sufficiently, because we know that the people who are going to be most hurt by these bans in other states are people of low income who don’t have the resources to get the care themselves, so we want to make sure it’s properly funded.

There are a number of other areas we’re exploring, but in some sense, we’re going to have to be reactive to what other states do to try to ban or burden care here in the state of Connecticut and what they do to attack our residents. So we’ll be on guard. We’ll be developing our agenda, and we see this as a fight that will continue into the future.


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