When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — what was supposed to be settled law — the question of access to abortion was thrown to the individual states.
You may believe that state governments should have the larger say over their residents’ lives — and be connected less to the oversight of a federal government. The interesting thing about that stance is that you must then acknowledge that other states are free to behave precisely the same way.
What has happened since the Supreme Court decision has been painful to watch as state after state codified abortion restrictions that range from draconian to most-likely unconstitutional to potentially life-threatening for people who seek abortions.
But not Connecticut. Last week, as part of their 2023 legislative agenda, members of the Connecticut Reproductive Rights Caucus began discussing the creation of a state fund that would help defray costs for people who are seeking abortions and must travel here from states where the medical procedure is illegal or nearly impossible to obtain.
Caucus chair Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, called the fund a part of “the totality of reproductive health care.” State Treasurer Erick Russell told The Courant that while Connecticut will continue to provide access to abortion, new restrictions around the country land particularly heavily on people who live in poverty, people of color, and members of the LGBT community. In fact, states with some of the most restrictive abortion laws since Roe was overturned also have the least supports in place for pregnant or new mothers. Researchers have said the post-Roe restrictions could increase the country’s already-dismal maternal mortality rate by as much as 24%. The so-called “post-Roe federalism” doesn’t work too well for women.
For all the issues facing Connecticut – and there are many – the state can start to look like a beacon on a hill. For generations, Connecticut has been at the forefront of defending abortion access. From the 1965 Supreme Court case, Griswold v. Connecticut, through 1990, when Connecticut became the nation’s first state to embed abortion access into state law, the state has set the standard for reproductive rights. At the end of the last state legislative session, Gov. Ned Lamont signed a law that protects Connecticut medical providers should they perform an abortion for anyone who travels from out-of-state for the procedure. Other states, including the state of Washington, have followed or are following suit with similar protective measures.
The legislation is an answer to other efforts in other states – including Texas, where last June’s court decision radically altered their reproductive rights landscape – where legislators have discussed destructive measures such as how to punish state-based companies who offer travel reimbursement to employees seeking abortions.
It gets worse. Emboldened by the Supreme Court win, legislators in a few states — including Missouri — have batted around legislation that would restrict people who need abortions from leaving their own state to obtain them, which is a radically unconstitutional suggestion that would be laughable if those states’ legislators didn’t take such nonsense so seriously.
The notion that someone who seeks a medical procedure can be legally restricted from traveling to get that procedure couldn’t be more dystopian, particularly when the restriction is connected to reproductive rights. If the redder states want to cleave to their notion of states’ rights, they should understand that their state laws don’t apply once someone crosses their borders. Reproductive restrictions don’t work like concealed carry laws. There is no reciprocity.
This is what happens when a federal government abdicates its leadership position. We hear about states’ rights most when we discuss civil rights, or any time someone is attempting to get in the way of someone else’s rights, as writes Jefferson Cowie, a Vanderbilt University history professor, in his book, “Freedom’s Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power.” Though the book focuses on white supremacists’ twisting the notion of freedom to exclude other (mostly not-white) people, there’s a lesson there for medical freedom, as well.
But let’s cling to some hope. That 1990 law that codified abortion access into Connecticut law was signed by former Gov. William A. O’Neill, a Roman Catholic who personally opposed abortion. The year before, O’Neill had his name removed from a political targets known as the NARAL Nine, after Connecticut-based abortion activists protested his inclusion on that list.
Maybe there’s hope for the leaders in those other states. Meanwhile, come to Connecticut.