Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — The Public Health Committee decided again Monday to postpone a vote on whether to raise a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives and another that would seek to regulate pregnancy center advertising.

Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, who co-chairs the Public Health Committee, said they held the aid-in-dying bill because they want a chance to have a discussion with all the members of the committee. At least two members were absent Monday due to illness.

After a 12-hour public hearing on the issue last year, the committee decided not to vote and send the bill to the House.

Asked if the committee would be able to tackle aid-in-dying along with legislation to repeal the religious exemptions for childhood vaccines in a short session, Steinberg said he didn’t “realize there was a limit to weighty issues that you could take on.”

“This committee always feels like it’s doing its best for the public good, for the public health,” Steinberg said. “And I’m not so sure taking a year off on things that ought to be done is necessarily the right course for the Public Health Committee.”

He said public sentiment on aid-in-dying has been changing slowly over the years and last year might have been a tipping point. Last year was the first year the Connecticut State Medical Society adopted a position of “engaged neutrality,” which means it’s leaving it up to its member physicians.

“Opinions change over time,” Steinberg said. “We see that with so many issues.”

Tim Appleton, campaign manager for Compassion & Choices in Connecticut, said he will respect the committee process and defer to the chairs about the best path forward.

That being said “your zip code should not define a person’s end of life journey,” Appleton said. “With the passage of legislation in New Jersey and Maine, more and more people in the region now have a way to access aid-in-dying.”

Eight states and Washington D.C. have aid-in-dying laws.

Similar aid-in-dying bills have failed to survive the committee process in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019.

Steinberg said he doesn’t know if he’s optimistic it will pass this year, but holding a public hearing will allow lawmakers to “shine a spotlight on it and get more people educated on what we’re really talking about.”

The other bill the committee postponed Monday was one that would regulate advertising done by so-called crisis pregnancy centers.

These pregnancy centers, which are sometimes faith-based, provide pregnancy-related services and support, but do not offer abortions or emergency contraception. Critics of the centers say women believe they are getting a full spectrum of reproductive care when that’s not the case.

A bill passed the committee last year and got a vote in the House, but it was never called in the Senate.

Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, said it’s his understanding that members of the committee would rather not deal with these two issues this year.

Wolfgang, whose organization opposes both concepts, said even members who support them are not interested in tackling them this year.

Chris Healy, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, said he’s ready to defeat the aid-in-dying legislation again if it’s raised.

“We are ready to oppose it and defeat this horrible policy that does nothing but promote a culture of death in our state,” Healy said.

As far as pregnancy centers are concerned, Healy said there have been no complaints for deceptive advertising filed against them. He said he doesn’t understand what’s wrong with people wanting to promote bringing a child into this world.

Both aid-in-dying and advertising of pregnancy centers may appear on the Public Health Committee’s agenda Friday, Feb. 14.