Opinion: CT's far-sighted abortion law

Abortion rights advocates protest abortion restrictions being debated recently in the Texas House.

Abortion rights advocates protest abortion restrictions being debated recently in the Texas House.

Tribune News Service

Connecticut residents watching the dystopian nightmare unfolding in Texas can breathe a sigh of relief: Abortion will remain safe and legal here. Abortion — that keystone of reproductive rights — was written into state law more than 30 years ago, and so the Supreme Court cannot negate it.

In 1990, when Roe v. Wade seemed untouchable, the majority of the Connecticut General Assembly had the foresight to codify abortion into state statute — just in case Roe were ever imperiled. And now it is.

So, as we post Facebook memes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” with messages offering veiled “visits to your aunt in Connecticut,” we should pause to think about the power of state government. Across the nation, states are now vulnerable to losing the protections afforded by Roe, simply because their state governments did not take the precaution our General Assembly took so long ago.

Significantly, Connecticut’s decision to put abortion into state statute was a bipartisan vote — taken long before the Republican Party took its sharp right-hand turn. Then, legislators on both sides of the aisle saw abortion for the personal choice it is. In so doing, they created a firewall between the rights of Connecticut people seeking abortion and what would, generations later, be a conservative U.S. Supreme Court determined to undo decades of sensible, life-saving legislation.

Connecticut’s law actually takes Roe a step further: Women and all people seeking abortion services in our state are guaranteed safe and legal abortion regardless of their insurance coverage. We also rejected the restrictions other states enacted, including parental notification, mandatory ultrasound and waiting periods, to name but a few.

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 19a-602(a) says, “The decision to terminate a pregnancy prior to the viability of the fetus shall be solely that of the pregnant woman in consultation with her physician.”

And there you have it: the firewall.

It must be noted that in addition to the statute, Connecticut has several powerful, well-run and effective reproductive rights organizations, including NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut and Planned Parenthood. These and other advocacy groups partnered with Connecticut legislators this past session to pass Public Act 21-17: An Act Concerning Deceptive Advertising Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers, which prevents so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” from dishonest practices that prey upon vulnerable people. It’s another example of the power of state legislatures to protect the rights of all citizens.

Not only is Connecticut a leader in women’s reproductive rights, but it was also the birthplace of the movement. The landmark decision Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), set the stage for Roe v. Wade by recognizing a married couple’s right to privacy. It overthrew the ancient “Comstock Law,” which outlawed the right to use birth control, and Griswold guaranteed “protect[ion] from governmental intrusion.”

Although dated now by its assumption that only married women would need (or deserve) such protections, how poignant do the words of then-Justice William O. Douglas sound to our ears in light of current events? Writing for the majority, Douglas said, “Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship.”

Repulsive indeed. But now, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld what the Texas General Assembly has done and, in so doing, has given carte blanche to vigilantes, religious fanatics and self-appointed moral police.

What can we do from our safe perch up north?

Express your outrage, whatever your gender or gender expression. Realize that abortion is a personal choice that helps keep people out of poverty. Donate to legitimate pro-choice campaigns. Support women’s organizations with your time, talent and resources. March on Oct. 2 to protest the Supreme Court decision.

And most importantly, vote for pro-choice candidates at every level of government. You never know when you may need them.

Christine Palm is the state representative from the 36th General Assembly district covering Chester, Deep River, Essex and Haddam. She is the former communications director for the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.