Attorney General William Tong with abortion rights advocates Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong announced Tuesday plans to add a special counsel for reproductive rights to represent his office in what he expects to be an influx of abortion-related cases caused by the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Tong appeared for an afternoon press conference with abortion rights advocates and members of the legislature’s Reproductive Rights Caucus in the lobby of his Hartford offices. 

In addition to his plans to hire at least one lawyer to work on reproductive rights cases, he said Connecticut would also participate in a pro bono legal assistance hotline created by New York Attorney General Letitia James. For legal guidance on abortion rights, patients and providers can call 212-899-5567.

“The fall of Roe was not the end, it was just the beginning,” Tong said, “the beginning of an assault and attack on women and patients and doctors and nurses and health care providers, an attack on Connecticut families and just the beginning of our strong defense.”

Tong and others pointed to states that have taken steps to outlaw abortion in the months since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization as well as a proposal for a national ban on abortions. 

He said the new special counsel, who has not yet been hired, and the legal assistance hotline will serve both Connecticut residents and people from other states who travel to Connecticut to access services that have been outlawed where they live. 

While the first special counsel position will be hired using already-approved funding, Tong said he hoped to secure money to add a yet-to-be-determined number of additional lawyers to work on reproductive rights cases. 

“We expect this to be an active space, legally and there could be a lot of work as the law develops on this,” Tong said. “It’s hard for us to forecast how [abortion opponents] are going to come at us. We just know that they are because they’ve already said that they will.” 

Zari Watkins, chief operating officer of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, said providers in Connecticut had seen around 75 out-of-state patients since last September, when Texas adopted sweeping abortion restrictions. 

“For Planned Parenthood, [out-of-state patients] have increased,” Watkins said. “We are seeing patients from Texas, we are also seeing patients from other states. So the point is simply that our patients are traveling very far to get these services.” 

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, Connecticut lawmakers passed legislation this year meant to shield patients and doctors who elect to conduct the procedure in Connecticut from legal action by states where abortion has been made illegal. The law also added certified APRNs and physician assistants to the providers allowed to perform aspiration abortions, the most common type of in-clinic abortion.

In a statement, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora accused state Democrats of focusing on reproductive health care in an effort to avoid talking about public safety as well as the economic concerns of residents worried about inflation.

“Sadly, state Democrats continue to weaponize the topic of women’s reproductive health by stepping in front of television cameras to double down on their false narrative that elected Republicans and candidates here are threatening a health care choice that’s enshrined in Connecticut law,” Candelora said. 

Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, a West Hartford Democrat who co-chairs the Reproductive Rights Caucus, said those rights were enshrined due to the efforts like those announced at Tuesday’s press conference. 

“I too am often asked, ‘Aren’t we good to go here in Connecticut? Aren’t we safe?’ We are currently safe because of the people who surround me right now,” Gilchrest said. “We will remain safe because we will remain diligent.” 

Meanwhile, Tong argued that codifying abortions in state law was not enough.

“We’re here to remind everybody that we are not fine. We are far from it,” Tong said. “When they’re done with Texas and Missouri and other places in this country, they will come for us and they will look to chip away at our laws.”

Tong is running for a second term as attorney general against Republican Jessica Kordas, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He will also face Independent candidate A.P. Pascarella, as well as Green Party candidate Ken Krayeske at the polls in November. 

Krayeske said he was not sure if any action taken by Connecticut’s reproductive rights special counsel against other states would survive a review by the conservate U.S. Supreme Court. 

“While I appreciate a radical approach to trying something new to protect human rights, it feels reactive and not proactive and I don’t like the idea of allowing Texas to sue us for laws we make that Texas doesn’t like,” Krayeske said.