Abortion Could Figure into Local Elections; Lawmakers Split on HB 5414 Vote

Note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Trevor Crow, Democratic candidate for State Senator in district 36.

A draft opinion of a Supreme Court decision to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide was leaked late on Monday.

Republican-led states have passed a slew of anti-abortion legislation ahead of the decision, which would lead to abortion bans in about half the states.

Laws in Texas, Oklahoma and Idaho ban abortions either entirely or as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Students from the Greenwich High School Democracy in Action Club at a reproductive rights rally outside Stamford Superior Court, Oct 2, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager

Late Monday night Connecticut Attorney General William Tong released a statement saying the decision would be tragic and destructive.

“This would fundamentally and irrevocably change who we are as a nation, stripping rights that have been hard-wired into our laws for as long as many of us have been alive,” Tong said. “If this decision stands, America will be immediately divided in two—states that will trust the personal and professional decisions of women and doctors, and states where craven politicians will seek to control and criminalize those choices.”

Controversy over abortion rights will likely figure into the Nov 8 elections here in Greenwich.

State Senator Ryan Fazio (R-36), who represents Greenwich and parts of Stamford and New Canaan, is running for re-election. Fazio won a special election to fill the remainder of Democrat Alex Kasser’s term last August after Senator Kasser suddenly resigned. Kasser, who was a passionate advocate for reproductive rights and had the endorsement of Planned Parenthood, had defeated Fazio in 2020.

During a special election debate last summer, Fazio’s Democratic challenger Alexis Gevanter asked Fazio where he stood on Roe v. Wade. “Abortion and gay marriage are protected in law at the federal and state level, and neither of those things are going to change under any circumstances,” Fazio replied, describing Roe as iron clad. “They’re already codified into law.”

On Monday Democrat Trevor Crow, who previously ran for Tax Collector, announced she would challenge Fazio. Ms Crow, who has an MBA from Harvard and is a practicing therapist, said her priorities included safeguarding a woman’s right to choose.

On Tuesday evening, Crow responded to a request for comment to say, “Ryan Fazio’s disingenuous statement that he is looking out for the health and safety of women flies in the face of established medical practice.”

“An expansion of providers in no way compromises the health and safety of women,” she continued. “This is another example of a man attempting to “protect” women when instead he should be listening to medical professionals’ advice. I am so disappointed to have a state senator whose vote last week sides with the ultra-conservative, radical stance of the Supreme Court today.”

In a release announcing Crow’s candidacy on Monday, Greenwich DTC Chair Joe Angland said, “Just last week, (Fazio) voted against a woman’s right to choose, something voters on both sides have repeatedly shown they want protected.”

Angland referred to HB 5414, which was designed to protect Connecticut abortion seekers and providers from out-of-state lawsuits and criminal investigations.

According to State Rep Christine Palm, who sponsored HB 5414, vigilantism is being encouraged by such bills as Texas’ SB 8 and Missouri’s H.B. 2810, which she noted even criminalizes a woman experiencing a dangerous ectopic pregnancy.

The bill will also allow advanced practice registered nurses, nurse midwives and physician’s assistants to provide medication abortions and perform aspiration abortions (by suction), in the first trimester. Aspiration abortions are the most common method of in-clinic abortions. They are performed by clinicians other than doctors in 14 other states.

Just last Friday, the State Senate voted 25-9 in favor of HB 5414, though the vote was not entirely along party lines. Three Democratic Senators voted against the legislation and five Republican Senators voted in favor. The previous week the bill passed the State House in an 87-60 bipartisan vote.

Another sponsor of the bill, State Rep Matt Blumenthal (D-147) said in a statement that the measure would serve as a blueprint for other states seeking to protect the right to choose.

Fazio explained his vote against HB 5414, saying it did not change the legality of abortion in Connecticut one way or another.

“Abortion is legally allowed under state statue, irrespective of federal law, which no one in the state government is going to change,” he said.

He noted that Democrats were among the votes against HB 5414.

As for the bill expanding who may provide an abortion, Fazio said the bill undermined women’s health and safety “by lowering the safety standards for who can conduct surgical abortions in Connecticut, which are currently only done by physicians.”

“This bill was narrow, but a politically-motivated effort,” Fazio added. “I vote on bills based on substance and what will advance the health, safety, and well-being of all citizens.”

On Tuesday, Fazio reacted to the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion, saying again that abortion remained legal under Connecticut state law, and that that would not change if the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

“Abortion is legal under Connecticut state law and has been since passage in 1991,” he said. “This statute and policy will remain in effect irrespective of the Supreme Court’s pending decision. My Senate colleagues and I are certainly not going to change that.”

“At the beginning of this term, I also introduced legislation expanding access to contraception, which I will continue to advance next session, and have supported other bipartisan efforts to improve health care access and quality for women in our district and beyond,” Fazio added.

State Rep Fiorello replied on Tuesday to a request for comment on the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion to say her focus was on the breach of Supreme Court secrecy, and declined to comment on abortion rights.

“This intentional leak goes beyond party lines and the abortion debate. The damage done to the trust each Justice should have in the confidentiality and decorum of the Court is beyond measure right now,” Fiorello said. “I along with other Americans wait to understand the ramifications of a leak of this magnitude.”

Fiorello’s Democratic challenger Rachel Khanna in the 149th district said on Tuesday that overturning Roe meant that a woman’s right to seek an abortion would no longer be constitutionally protected.

“As a result, abortion will most likely become illegal in at least 14 states, if not more,” she said.

Khanna said a woman’s ability to make choices concerning her healthcare was a fundamental right.

“This reckless decision overturns decades of precedent and vital protections for women, and puts the lives of countless women at risk,” she continued. “We are being relegated to second-class status as citizens, incapable of making decisions regarding our health and well-being, and limiting our economic opportunities. The impact will be felt most severely by women of color, poor women and young women.”

Khanna said Connecticut must continue to provide a safe haven for women and providers.

She added that she would have voted in favor of HB 5414.

“Our Connecticut legislature, and the policies it enacts and rights it protects, are more important now than ever before,” she continued. “Some in our state legislature have voted against protecting a woman’s right to choose by opposing bills such as H.B. 5414. Those voting against included Kim Fiorello, your current representative and my opponent.”

“If elected for State Representative for the 149th district of CT, I will fight to ensure women’s
reproductive rights remain protected in our state and that women have access to safe and
affordable healthcare, including abortion,” Khanna added. “And I will support swift legislative action in response to other states’ attempts to impose their anti-choice laws on our citizens.”

While on Tuesday Fiorello was focused on the breach in Supreme Court secrecy, she did speak about Roe during the 2020 League of Women Voters candidate debates.

“It’s enshrined already in our State constitution,” she said in October 2020. “That said, on the topic, there is another conversation we could have, as the mother of a son, a teenage boy. When we talk about unwanted pregnancies, we should also be talking to our boys about being responsible. It does take two. That is a conversation I would ask have my husband to have.”

Democratic State Rep Steve Meskers, who voted for HB 5414 said on Tuesday, “As we witness anti-abortion laws being enacted across the country and anticipate the overturn of Roe v Wade, expanding access and protecting reproductive rights in CT has never been more important.”

On Tuesday, Democrat Hector Arzeno, who has registered his campaign for State Rep in the 151st district with the Connecticut SEEC, said he hoped to be endorsed by NARAL and Planned Parenthood again in 2022.

In 2020 he lost against Harry Arora. Rep Arora is running in November for State Treasurer.

“As I said two years ago, and maintain today, I support anything that has to be done at the state level to maintain women’s rights and reproductive rights,” Arzeno said.

Angland on Tuesday commented on the leaked Roe draft to say a reversal of Roe v. Wade would be a huge step backwards for the nation. 

“Connecticut law protects a woman’s right to choose, but that law could change. Two years ago, at a League of Women Voters debate, none of the Greenwich Republican candidates for the House was willing to state that he or she would oppose efforts to change that law.”

“With the threat that now looms, it is far past the point when a candidate should duck and hide on this issue,” he added. “Voters have a right to know where each candidate stands.”

On Twitter, US Senator Blumenthal, who is from Greenwich, thanked Connecticut’s legislature for anticipating what he described as a “potential horror.”

Leora Levy, who is from Greenwich and was recently nominated by the Greenwich RTC to challenge Senator Blumenthal, tweeted that the leak of the draft opinion was a “dangerous and cowardly attempt of anonymous pro-abortion activists.”

Themis Klarides, the former state House Minority Leader, who is also a candidate for the Republican nomination for US Senate, said she was troubled about the leak of the draft and would limit her comments until a final decision was issued.

However, she did say, “I am pro-choice and have been consistent in that belief during my time in the state legislature.”

As for HB 5414 in Connecticut, the bill will next go to Governor Lamont, who pledged his support during a press conference on April 19, and again on Tuesday. The bill would take effect in July.

“I am very appreciative to the majority of lawmakers in Connecticut who had the foresight to draft this legislation at a time when the right to a safe and legal abortion in America is in jeopardy,” he said in a statement. “I am proud to stand up for access to reproductive healthcare and reproductive freedom. As long as I am governor of this great state, we’ll never waiver on the right to choose, and the belief that medical decisions should be made between a patient and their doctor. As soon as this bill is transmitted to my office, I will sign it into law.”

Vote in the CT House on HB 5414
Vote in the CT Senate on HB 5414.