Courtesy of House Democratic Office

In response to a national wave of state laws restricting or criminalizing abortions should Roe v. Wade be overturned this summer, Connecticut has passed its own law defending a person’s right to choose. 

On Tuesday night, the Connecticut State House passed HB 5414, a bill co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Jilian Gilchrest and Matt Blumenthal. The bill expands the number of medical professionals who can provide a medicinal or aspiration abortion in the first trimester. It also sets up a legal shield against anti-abortion vigilantes in states like Texas or Mississippi, who can use recently passed state laws to sue abortion providers in Connecticut who provide abortions to Mississippians or Texans. The bill could help protect Yale students who hail from those states should they receive an abortion in Connecticut.

With a final vote of 87-60, 14 Democrats voted against the bill, and seven Republicans voted in favor of the bill. 

“This bill takes important steps to increase access to reproductive health care by aligning our provider eligibility statutes with the modern standard of care,” Blumenthal said. “The bill also provides legal protections for people who are either obtaining, providing or assisting others in obtaining reproductive health care that is legal here in the state of Connecticut.”

Protecting Connecticut and out-of-state residents from legal action post-Roe

According to Blumenthal, he and other members of the reproductive rights caucus met with abortion rights groups from across the state to learn about the implications of anti-abortion vigilante bills in states like Texas for Connecticut residents and health care providers. 

“This bill will prevent our public agencies from being commandeered by other states,” Blumenthal told the News. “They will protect medical privacy by preventing the disclosure of medical records related to reproductive health care and also prevent the enforcement of certain subpoenas. And these provisions contain a restitution provision that will allow someone who is sued out of state by one of these bounty-style laws to seek restitution attorney fees and costs through our courts.” 

Blumenthal said that Texas’ new vigilante abortion bill allows for any Texan to sue Connecticut abortion providers who provide a Texan citizen an abortion in Connecticut. For example, if a Yale student who is originally from Texas receives an abortion at Yale Family Planning, a subset of Yale Medicine, or another abortion provider in the state, then any Texas resident can sue the provider under the auspices of Texas’ SB 8 for a minimum of $10,000 in damages. 

“You’ve got a girlfriend-boyfriend who lives in Mississippi, and she gets pregnant,” David Cohen, constitutional lawyer at Drexel Law, explained. “She goes back to school at Yale and finds out she’s pregnant. Her Yale friend helps her get an abortion in CT. The MS boyfriend sues the Yale friend in MS court for wrongful death of his child.” 

HB 5414 creates standing for the abortion provider, or any other Connecticuter that helped someone procure an abortion, to sue for reimbursement, attorney fees, costs and other expenses related to the lawsuit brought under laws from other states. 

Blumenthal said that efforts to shore up the legal shield for Connecticuters have largely been driven by the fact that individual states have demonstrated that they are using their “significant power to regulate and enforce their laws outside of their borders.” 

He pointed to SB 8 in Texas, as well as analogous statutes in Idaho and Missouri, which have removed all territorial restrictions or have expressly targeted out-of-state clinics and people, as a reason behind the passage of this bill. 

Another important facet of this section of the bill is strengthening reproductive health medical records. 

According to Liz Gustafson, state director of National Abortion Rights Action League

, and Blumenthal, officials and pro-choice groups are worried that if Roe is overturned states like Texas, Mississippi and Idaho — which have moved to criminalize and penalize abortions — can issue subpoenas or other court-enforceable orders to force the handing-over of records domiciled in Connecticut. 

Blumenthal told the News that this bill will prevent the enforceability of these subpoenas since the abortion was legal in Connecticut, which will not recognize another state’s claim on the legality of the abortion. 

The final facet of the legal shield portion of the bill further clarifies the state’s right to extradite with relation to reproductive health care procedures. 

“[This bill] will modify our extradition statutes so that we don’t hand over individuals who have done nothing wrong here in the state of Connecticut, and they’ve never been to the states that are requesting their extradition,” said Blumenthal. 

He further explained that some states like Mississippi have begun debating bills that can ask for other states to extradite Connecticut abortion providers to Mississippi, which necessitated this section of the bill. 

“This bill is a critical step forward for our state and the country,” said Jess Zaccagnino, ACLU of Connecticut policy counsel. “Connecticut must move forward to ensure that no matter what, abortion access here is as guaranteed as legal abortion rights. Our state can and should be a leader in dismantling barriers to abortion access and ensuring that abortion is accessible, affordable, and available to all. Everyone deserves access to abortion care in their community, on the timeline they choose, and by the provider they trust.”

State expands who can provide an abortion

According to Gilchrest, Roe was codified by the state of Connecticut in 1990. However, in the statute that codified Roe, only physicians were allowed to perform aspiration abortion, which is one of the most common types of abortion during the first trimester. 

“I was told that our abortion statute were antiquated,” Gilchrest said. “And, we should come in line with 14 other states by allowing advanced practitioners to perform aspiration abortion. And so that’s really the impetus behind the bill. And it is my hope that the Senate will take up the bill either Friday or early next week.”

HB 5414 expands the groups of medical professionals who can now perform an aspiration abortion to allow for advanced practice nurses, physicians assistants and nurse-midwives to carry out the procedure. 

According to Gustafson, the average wait time for an abortion or even getting an appointment with an OB-GYN or other reproductive health professional is roughly two weeks in the state. 

Republicans in the state house repeatedly rose in opposition to the bill’s expansion of qualified abortion providers. Republican House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said on the floor that he believed under this new bill, women will be getting abortions from inexperienced or untrained providers. 

“I want assurances that any woman going in for any type of reproductive procedure is going to be having a trained medical professional performing that service,” said Candelora. “This legislation doesn’t ensure that. And we are just doing a disservice to any individual that thinks that they’re going into these clinics under trained supervision.” 

Berger-Girvalo and Gilchrest pushed back against this charge, saying that it was “disrespectful” to say that medical professionals would carry out a procedure for which they had not properly been trained. Gilchrest added that this bill would also allow for medical practitioners who are not physicians to gain the requisite training. 

Republicans accused Democrats of not bringing the state’s Director of Public Health Manisha Juthani for testimony before either the House’s Judiciary or Public Health committees, accusing the process of being “rushed.” 

Gilchrest told the News that the committee has been in constant contact with the state’s DPH and received a letter in support of the bill from the department, which the ranking members, who are Republicans in a Democratic-controlled house, were also provided with. She explained that this letter laid out how the nonphysician medical professionals were certified to carry out abortions yet were not able to due to state statutes. 

What’s next? 

Governor Ned Lamont is a supporter of the bill. His Senior Press Secretary Anthony Anthony told the News that the Governor will sign the bill when it gets to his desk. 

House Democrats are not sure when the bill will be taken up by the Senate; however, Blumenthal speculated that the bill would be taken up within the next week and signed shortly thereafter by Lamont. 

“I cannot imagine a bill as critical as this not being called in the Senate,” said Berger-Girvalo. “That would be unfathomable.”

Twenty-six states in the nation have passed laws restricting or criminalizing all abortions in their states in anticipation of a Dodds v. Jackson’s Women Health Organization ruling that will overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

YASH ROY
Yash Roy covers education & youth services in New Haven and is a P&D staffer. He is a first year in Timothy Dwight College and is from Princeton, NJ.