U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and Vice President Kamala Harris Credit: Hugh McQuaid photo

NEW BRITAIN, CT — As states across the country pass laws outlawing abortion, Vice President Kamala Harris encouraged an audience at Central Connecticut State University on Wednesday to build coalitions in support of preserving their rights or see them eroded.

Harris shared a stage at the university’s Torp Theatre with Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson and U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, a two-term Democrat representing the 5th District, considered to be the most competitive of the state’s congressional race in next month’s election. Hayes faces George Logan, a former state senator. 

Hayes and Johnson questioned the vice president for around 40 minutes about the Biden administration’s efforts to preserve reproductive rights in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling which overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year. 

Harris said the efforts to overturn basic rights would not stop at abortion. She said many of the states which have taken steps to restrict abortions have also signalled an interesting in scaling back voting rights and curbing access to contraception.

“It’s already happening,” Harris said. “And we know that all of these hard-won fights will be temporary unless we’re vigilant about upholding them, these rights.”

Although the mid-day forum was an official rather than campaign event for both Harris and Hayes, it centered around a subject which Democrats across the country have highlighted in their campaigns and the vice president acknowledged its proximity to the quickly approaching election. 

“Let’s organize, let’s organize, let’s link arms and do what we need to do in the next 34 days,” Harris said, prompting applause from the crowd. “This is not a political event but it is a fact that in 34 days there is a midterm coming up. And facts must be spoken.”

Harris praised Hayes as a leader and urged the crowd to send her back to Washington. 

Connecticut’s 5th Congressional district is generally considered Republicans’ best shot at winning one of the state’s congressional seats. Polling aggregation and analysis site FiveThirtyEight favors Hayes to win another term while Politico considers the race a “toss up.”

On Wednesday morning, prior to Harris’s arrival in Connecticut Logan and Ben Proto, the state’s Republican Party chairman, participated in a press call organized by the Republican National Committee. 

Both men avoided any mention of abortion or reproductive rights during their prepared remarks. Instead, they chose to focus on economic issues, crime as well as the security of the southern border of the United States. 

However, Logan clarified his positions on abortion during a Q&A period with reporters, saying he supported a woman’s right but opposed late term abortions and believed that parental consent should be required in situations when a minor is seeking an abortion. 

“Women’s health care and reproductive rights are without a doubt an important topic,” Logan said. “Sadly the vice president and my opponent, and the Democrat leaders, they’re cheating voters out of a meaningful conversation on an important topic because all they have done as far as lie about my record, which is strongly and consistently support women’s rights including a woman’s right to choose.”

Proto argued that Democrats were “fear mongering” on an a topic that was not an issue in Connecticut due to state laws preserving access to abortion. However, during her remarks, Hayes said that could easily change.

“As legislation is being proposed for a nationwide abortion ban, the rights of the people here in Connecticut could be at risk,” Hayes said. 

Near the end of the discussion, the vice president said that her 23 year-old daughter now had fewer rights than those held by her 81 year-old mother-in-law. 

“Can you imagine?” Harris said. “You know, we’re supposed to be a nation that grows and strengthens itself and thinks about progress, which should include the expansion of rights. But we have now restricted them to the point that two women in the same family are going to have such disparate experience in terms of a fundamental right. Going backwards, not forwards.”

The event at the New Britain-based university saw the campus inundated with police and secret service. By the end of the discussion, a small group of protesters had gathered outside the police-tape perimeter maintained by security officials. One woman stood across the street beside a sign designed to look like a Connecticut vanity plate with the characters “KILZ – MOR” over the term “Abortion State.” 

The event was otherwise low-key. Early on, the audience inside cheered for remarks by U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, a former state commissioner and alumni of CCSU. 

“This administration will do everything in our power to protect women’s rights and affirm that access to health care, including reproductive health care is vital for all of our college students. Go Blue Devils,” Cardona said.