Jack Kramer / CTNewsJunkie
Gretchen Raffa, director of Public Policy, Advocacy & Strategic Engagement at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, speaks with the backing of a group called the “Handmaid Coalition” during Sunday’s rally at the state Capitol in Hartford (Jack Kramer / CTNewsJunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Rallies were held in Hartford — and all over the country Sunday — to mark both Women’s Equality Day and a nationwide call to “Unite for Justice” and against President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. 

The Hartford event, attended by a crowd of about 150 at the north steps of the state Capitol, was sponsored by the Connecticut chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in partnership with Women’s March CT.

“Our voice is our power,” Connecticut NOW President Cindy Wolfe Boynton said.

“I truly believe this, and that every voice matters,” Boynton said. “Our Founding Fathers clearly believed this, too, because it’s the ideal that our democracy is based on.”

“The Connecticut chapter of the National Organization for Women will continue to work tirelessly with our allies to create the kind of loud, determined, grassroots groundswell needed to defeat Kavanaugh’s nomination and propel the fight for equality and justice for all,” Boynton added.

Since Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace the more liberal Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is retiring, opponents have voiced concerns that Kavanaugh will push the court to rule more conservatively, specifically on abortion.

Kennedy voted in 2016 to strike down restrictions on abortion clinics and doctors in Texas that had created hardships for thousands of women, without sufficient health benefits.

The case was decided 5-3 following Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. A generation earlier, Kennedy also helped preserve abortion rights in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, decided 5-4.

Kavanaugh’s only abortion ruling came last year, when he dissented from the appeals court’s decision allowing an undocumented teenager in federal custody to get an abortion. He said the government “has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor and refraining from facilitating abortion.”

In a speech last year, Kavanaugh heaped praise on the late chief justice William Rehnquist, citing among other things Rehnquist’s dissent from the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Rehnquist, he said, “stated that under the court’s precedents, any such unenumerated right had to be rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people.”

Boynton told the crowd in Hartford, “We know that our voting rights are already eroding and it will get worse if Kavanaugh is appointed.”

Other speakers at the rally included Jahana Hayes, fresh off her Aug. 14 primary victory in the 5th Congressional District. She will face Republican Manny Santos, the former mayor of Meriden, in November. If she wins, she will become Connecticut’s first African-American Congresswoman.

Hayes, a former school teacher, said “nothing about this journey (into politics) has been easy, but I’ve learned ‘no’ is not a complete sentence.”

She said one reason she wants to be in Congress is because “it’s not okay for people who have been elected to trample over our rights.”

“We have to fight against racism,” Hayes told the cheering crowd. “We have to fight to protect our reproductive rights and people also have the right to marry who they want and to love who they love.”

Jack Kramer / CTNewsJunkie
Some of the roughly 150 on hand for Sunday’s rally at the state Capitol in Hartford (Jack Kramer / CTNewsJunkie)

Gretchen Raffa, director of Public Policy, Advocacy & Strategic Engagement at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, fired up the crowd with her speech while eight women from a group called the “Handmaid Coalition,” decked out in red robes and white bonnets, stood silently behind her.

The activists were dressed as characters from Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which is a novel about women who have been stripped of all forms of choice and forced to bear children for powerful men.

The four women declined to be interviewed but handed out a piece of paper that said the Handmaid Coalition’s mission was: “to combat misogyny and the oppression of marginalized groups perpetuated through legislation and government policy. Through organization and coordination with existing groups, lobbying, and protesting, we seek to expose, confront, and address oppressive and repressive politicians, policies and actions.”

Raffa gave a fiery speech pleading those in attendance to speak up against Kavanaugh.

Raffa and others who spoke said that while the abortion issue has grabbed a lot of the headlines concerning Kavanaugh’s nomination, other advancements made in the areas of gender rights, anti-discrimination rights, and LGBTQ rights are in jeopardy with Trump’s Supreme Court pick.

“Now is the time to get loud,” Raffa told the crowd. She then asked the group: “Are you ready to fight like hell to stop Kavanaugh?”

“Yes,” was the resounding answer from the crowd.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who also spoke at the rally, said it’s of concern to her that so-called “Women’s Rights’’ rallies still need to be held.

“How many years do I have to stand on this stage and right for the same thing,” Merrill asked. She also told the crowd that it’s concerning to her that the number of female representatives in Connecticut’s House of Representatives is going down — not up.

She pegged the percentage of female House representatives at 27 percent.

Merrill said whether the issue is reproductive rights, paid family medical leave, equal pay for equal work, there is one sure-fire way to create change.

“This is a wake-up call,” Merrill said. “What’s the best way you can fight back,” she asked.

“Vote — Duh!”