Left to right: Sen. Mae Flexer, Rep. Christine Palm, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General William Tong Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut Democrats seized Thursday on a fresh opportunity, provided by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, to assail Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski as a threat to abortion rights.

With a Tuesday bill proposing to largely ban abortions nationwide after 15 weeks, Graham, a Republican, reinvigorated an issue that has been front and center for Democratic candidates since before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. 

Standing outside the state Capitol building, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said Graham’s proposal targeted Connecticut’s law codifying the right to abortions. Bysiewicz and other Democratic candidates acting as surrogates for Gov. Ned Lamont vowed to fight efforts to ban abortions and suggested that Connecticut Republicans had failed to do the same.

“The silence is deafening from the other team,” Bysiewicz said. “We’ve heard our opponent say, ‘We’re fine. We have a Roe law.’ But the question that we have for Bob Stefanowski is this: Bob, why haven’t you stood up to Senator Graham?”

Stefanowski’s position on abortion has remained consistent throughout the campaign. The Madison Republican has said he supports Connecticut’s law codifying the right to an abortion but also supports an additional restriction on the procedure that would require minors to secure parental consent before having an abortion. 

On Thursday, he issued a statement that concisely opposed any federal ban before pivoting to economic and public safety concerns.  

“The right to an abortion is codified in Connecticut state law and will remain so when I am governor. Furthermore, I vehemently oppose any proposed federal ban on abortion that would seek to supersede our state law. Period. End of story,” Stefanowski said. 

The Democrats assembled Thursday were unwilling to let him off the hook so easily. 

“Just to say you’re pro choice isn’t enough,” Attorney General William Tong said. “Let’s just be clear: that doesn’t cut it right now… He needs to stand with us and draw a bright line in the sand and say that he will fight for Connecticut women, patients, doctors, health care providers.”

“Bob Stefanowski is trying to appease a Republican Party that even here in Connecticut has gotten more extreme,” Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Windham, said. “Bob Stefanowski is trying to have it both ways. He wants the embrace of people who espouse the extreme positions and he doesn’t want to tell the voters of Connecticut the truth.” 

Rep. Terrie Wood Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Stefanowski’s campaign dispatched Rep. Terrie Wood, a moderate and pro-choice Republican from Darien, to respond to the Democrats’ press event. Wood told reporters the Democrats had “invoked hysteria” to construct a misleading narrative about Stefanowski. 

“Quite frankly it’s outrageous,” Wood said. “There’s bipartisan support in Hartford for women’s reproductive rights. We’ve proven that year after year.”

Wood said Stefanowski and his running mate, Rep. Laura Devlin of Fairfield, have been clear in their support of Connecticut’s abortion policies. “How often can you say that?” Wood said. “I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard [Stefanowski] say, ‘I support a women’s right to choose.’” 

Thursday’s press conference comes a day after WTNH and The Hill released a poll by Emerson College on the state’s U.S. Senate race. In addition to finding Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal leading his Republican opponent Leora Levy by 13 percentage points, the poll found abortion a somewhat distant concern for many Connecticut voters. 

About 7.3% reported abortion access as the most important issue when they head to the polls in November. The economy was the most-cited concern with 40.2%, saying it would be their number one issue this year.

Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, said the polls belie a deep concern on the part of Connecticut voters.

“People care about this issue,” Palm said. “Whether it polls a certain way or not, I can tell you that the women I speak to especially and a lot of men care deeply about this.”