Democratic State Chair Nancy DiNardo. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut Democrats sought Tuesday to keep abortion rights at the center of this year’s campaigns, staging a state Capitol press conference in which some of the party’s top-ranking women cast the Republican candidate for governor as a threat to reproductive rights.

Democratic State Chair Nancy DiNardo and Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz were among nearly a dozen elected officials and candidates who gathered on the east steps of the Capitol building to ensure that abortion rights remain a focus in this year’s political campaigns.

With a draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court all but confirming the impending end to a landmark decision that has long made abortion legal nationwide, the issue appears likely to be decided on a state-by-state basis. And while current state law ensures abortion will remain legal in Connecticut, Democrats said the issue will be on the ballot here in November.

“Democrats in Connecticut are defending and expanding reproductive rights,” DiNardo said. “It’s no longer sufficient for candidates to simply say they’re supporting existing law or they believe the issue in Connecticut is settled.”

The comment was the first of several apparently leveled at Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski who, in a statement last week, said he would not attempt to change Connecticut’s current policies on abortion. 

“Elections matter. They have consequences,” said Bysiewicz, who is running for reelection along with Gov. Ned Lamont. “We have, in Bob Stefanowski, a person who is following the Republican playbook to repeal Roe v. Wade and he’s doing what he does very well, which is to deceive voters and I’m here to tell you, you can’t trust Bob.”

For his part, Stefanowski has made somewhat limited comments on abortion rights in the wake of the draft opinion on Roe v. Wade. In addition to vowing not to change current state law on abortion, he said Connecticut should consider requiring parental notification for minors under 16 years old who are seeking an abortion unless the case involved rape or incest.

“A 15-year-old girl in Connecticut has to obtain a parent’s permission to get a tattoo, but she doesn’t need to notify them about getting an abortion,” Stefanowski said in a statement. “Ned Lamont thinks that makes sense, I don’t – and the majority of parents across our state don’t either.”

Bysiewicz said he could not hold both positions. 

“You can’t say it’s settled law here in Connecticut if in the same breath you are suggesting that we further restrict our Roe law,” she said.

Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, a West Hartford Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Reproductive Rights Caucus, accused Stefanowski of saying he supported a law requiring a minor to receive consent by a parent before receiving an abortion. Liz Kurantowicz, a spokesperson for Stefanowski, said the candidate had made no such statement but she declined to characterize his position on the issue. 

Bysiewicz said voters would be expecting candidates to clarify their positions before the November election. Bysiewicz said she attended several rallies in recent days and found residents energized by the issue.

“It was men and women, young people and older people, kids and everyone in between who came forward to say that this is unacceptable,” she said.

In an interview last week, state Republican Chairman Ben Proto said he believed Connecticut voters would be motivated more by economic issues like inflation when they head to the polls in November.
“First, last and foremost will be the economy and inflation. The overwhelming increases in gasoline, home heating oil, groceries, food staples, just everyday cost of living items that folks are dealing with is always going to be the issue,” Proto said.