Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to expand access to abortion services in Connecticut and to shield doctors and patients here from the restrictive policies of other states ahead of expected action on the issue by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The bill was approved by the House on a 87 to 60 vote that fell generally on party lines but saw 14 Democrats vote in opposition and seven Republicans vote in support.

The legislation contained two related proposals. One element would add certified APRNs and physician assistants to the providers allowed to perform aspiration abortions in Connecticut. The other is designed to prevent states with laws prohibiting abortions from extraditing patients or doctors who travel to Connecticut for a procedure.

“Other states have been passing extremely punitive, overreaching laws,” said Rep. Matt Blumenthal, a Stamford Democrat who is a vice chair of the Judiciary Committee. Blumenthal pointed to a recently-passed law in Texas.

“They’re seeking to apply these laws outside their borders, including in Connecticut if the situation applies,” Blumenthal said. “So the protections in the bill would essentially help ensure that people who come to Connecticut or provide care here in Connecticut or others obtaining care in Connecticut … can rely on that legality and be free of fear from legal sanction.”

Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, said the provision allowing PAs to perform abortions was designed to reduce wait times for patients. 

“What we heard during the public hearing is it can currently take two weeks or longer to get an aspiration abortion because we are lacking providers,” Gilchrest said. 

Renewed debate over abortion policy in Connecticut and elsewhere comes as the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is widely expected to change or strike down Roe v. Wade, the decision that has made abortion legal since 1973. 

In the event the law is overturned, as many as 23 states are expected to quickly outlaw abortions, Gilchrest said. A Hartford-based Planned Parenthood official told lawmakers they have already cared for patients from Texas, she said.

State Democrats have rallied around the issue. The bill passed by the House Tuesday is one of two pieces of legislation under consideration this year. The other is a resolution that would include language protecting abortion rights in the state consitution. 

As the legislature convened in Hartford Tuesday, Gov. Ned Lamont was at the nearby Lyceum for a press conference to “reaffirm his commitment to ensuring that Connecticut remains a state that protects reproductive rights,” according to his office.

One of the legislature’s newest Democrats, Rep. Trenee McGee of West Haven, spoke against abortion and its impact on young Black women. McGee, who was elected during a December special election, said you Black girls are taught about abortion as a method of birth control.

“There’s a lot of history we don’t talk about when it comes to this topic, but for me, this is a part of my racial justice fight,” McGee said. “The majority of abortion clinics are located in the Black community — social and economically depressed Black and brown communities.”

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

However, much of the debate in the House centered on process questions: the joining of two separate policies under one bill, whether Connecticut was overstepping its authority by deciding it would choose not to honor the laws of other states. House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said the bill was potentially unconstitutional. 

“For us it’s really less about a pro-choice decision and it’s more about state’s rights and federal law really overshadowing this issue,” Candelora said. 

“They’ve written a bill that has broad sweeping impacts on states rights,” Candelora said. “What I am saying is we need to look at those distinctions and get this bill right rather than running to the podium to be the first person to say, ‘I support women’s rights.’ It’s not about women’s rights, it’s about our constitution.”

Others objected to abortions in general. Rep. Brian Lanoue, R-Griswold, said he would only promote a “culture of life.” He pointed to pictures of developing fetuses.

“Just a number of weeks before you see legs and hands and fingers and nose and ears are developed,” Lanoue said. “I can not in good conscience support legislation that would expand the number of people that would perform these type of procedures.”

Blumenthal dismissed constitutional questions, saying the bill had been vetted by legal experts prior to being raised on the floor. 

“Some of them testified at the public hearing and all the indications are it would withstand constitutional scrutiny,” Blumenthal said. 

During a morning press briefing, House Democratic leaders said it was important that Connecticut continue to protect reproductive rights, especially given the potential for a Supreme Court decision in June. House Majority Leader Jason Rojas said Tuesday’s debate marked the first time debating the issue even for some long-serving legislators.

“There’s many members like me — I’ve been here 14 years,” Rojas said. “We’ve never really had to debate a choice bill but given the climate that we now exist in that we have states moving in the direction that we are, it’s bringing it back onto our legislative agenda.”

Carla D’Esposito of Waterbury opposing legislative action to enshrine abortion rights Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

The renewed debate has also attracted public attention and demonstrations to the state Capitol in recent weeks. March for Life, an organization opposed to abortion, staged a rally in Hartford last month. On Tuesday, some residents gathered on the second floor of the state Capitol building to urge lawmakers to oppose efforts to further codify abortion rights.

Waterbury resident Carla D’Esposito suggested universities and research institutions were behind the push to preserve abortion protections. 

“They’re buying and selling baby parts,” D’Esposito said. “It’s ugly, dirty money. Big business. We gotta put an end to it. Why can’t Connecticut be a leader in that?”

The bill now goes to the Senate.