A voice of dissent as CT House passes new abortion protections

Rising to speak against a bill that would bring the strongest gains to Connecticut abortion rights since 1990, Rep. Treneé McGee, one of the youngest and newest members of the General Assembly, recalled many conversations she’s had with Black girls over the years.

“They were taught about abortion as a birth control method,” the West Haven Democrat said Tuesday night during debate on the bill, which passed 87-60. “They were taught that at any point in time, when they were 13 or 12 or 15, they could go to a Planned Parenthood and receive an abortion without their parents knowing.”

McGee, who is Black, has spoken openly about her opposition to abortion since winning in a special election late last year. A day after the House vote, McGee said she felt it was important to express a view that’s not often heard in the Democratic Party.

“I knew that it had a very strong chance of passing but I wanted to give a different perspective on this topic, which affects our communities differently,” McGee said in a brief interview Wednesday.


McGee was one of 14 Democrats who voted no on the measure; ten are people of color. She said members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, many of whom also opposed the bill, encouraged her to speak up Tuesday.

“There are many Democrats who I believe have felt shut out of the party because of their beliefs on abortion,” she said.

Seven Republicans, including Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, the likely GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, joined a majority of Democrats in supporting the measure; five of those seven are women.

The tally, and the debate, spoke to the deeply personal dilemma that lawmakers faced in weighing whether to increase Connecticut’s already strong abortion rights protections — just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide on an abortion case from Mississippi. Most observers expect the court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, to at least weaken the rights in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case.

The Supreme Court case has spurred a flurry of action by states on both sides of the issue seeking to get ahead of the high court’s ruling.

Connecticut’s bill, which Gov. Ned Lamont vowed to sign if it reaches his desk, would broaden who can perform the procedure and strengthen the legal shield for those who perform abortions or aid someone in getting the procedure in Connecticut — against the threat of lawsuits filed in conservative states.

McGee, 27, an acting coach, teacher, writer, and producer, said that in her community at least, other issues rise above reproductive rights.

“I’m not necessarily saying it’s not a want but it’s definitely not a priority in the Black community,” she said Wednesday. “It’s just not.”

In conversations she’s had with constituents, they’ve voiced concerns about the cost of child care, student debt, gun reform and police brutality. But she was quick to offer this caveat: “My community isn’t a monolith. We’re more of a mosaic.”

During the debate, she dismissed the argument that expanding access to abortion would benefit women of color. “Black women make up 14 percent of the child-bearing population yet obtain 36.2 percent of all reported abortions,” she said.

A representative’s abortion story

In another deeply personal moment during the debate, Rep. Aimee Berger-Girvalo, D-Ridgefield, spoke of her experience getting an abortion when she was 18.

She said she found out she was pregnant at six weeks and had to wait three weeks for an appointment at a clinic forty minutes from her home. “I had to cross a barrier of protestors yelling and grabbing at me,” she said, and go through the procedure in a room full of strangers whom she would never see again.

“I have never once regretted my choice. My choice,” Berger-Girvalo said. “Not then and certainly not now.”

She recalled crying through the procedure and feeling frightened and overwhelmed. But said she feels “pretty certain” her fear would’ve been eased and that she would have been seen sooner if the procedure were done by a provider she knew such as the APRN who performs her annual exams.

The measure, which the state Senate is expected to take up next week, seeks to combat more restrictive laws passed by other states such as Texas’ six-week abortion ban. That law, along with others in conservative states, empowers private citizens to bring legal action against a patient or provider — even in states where the procedure is legal.

Opponents question constitutionality

Republicans questioned the bill’s constitutionality and whether the measure was needed, or well designed, in a state that already has strong abortion protections.

“We hear a lot about access to abortion and providing a safer way to getting an abortion, but I don’t have the confidence that this legislation accomplishes that goal,” said House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford.

Proponents of the bill said it’s meant to expand access at a time when there’s a lack of abortion providers — both for Connecticut residents and those living in more restrictive states who might come to here to get the procedure.

The bill seeks to prevent Connecticut officials from assisting with out-of-state investigations involving abortions performed legally here – a response to laws being passed in conservative states.

Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, co-chair of the Reproductive Rights Caucus, said Texas’ law deputizes private citizens as “essentially vigilante bounty hunters, to sue any person or organization — physician, nurse, clinic, friend, even the Uber driver, who assists an individual in obtaining an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.”

The proposal in Connecticut is “purely defensive,” Blumenthal said. “The only way that it comes into effect is if another state tries to impose their laws on care that is legal here in the state of Connecticut,” he said.

The bill would also enable advanced-practice clinicians, not just doctors, to perform abortions by suction, known as aspiration abortions. Advanced practice registered nurses, nurse-midwives and physician assistants would be able to perform the procedure, which is the most common form of in-clinic abortion.

The current wait time for a first-trimester abortion is about two weeks due to a shortage of providers in the state, said Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, co-chair of the Reproductive Rights Caucus.

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