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Conn. lawmakers pass bill to be ‘place of refuge’ for abortion patients

The governor has vowed to sign legislation approved Friday that was inspired by newly restrictive laws in GOP-led states

Women's March participants gather for the Rally for Abortion Justice on Oct. 2, 2021, in Washington. (Amanda Voisard/The Washington Post)

The Connecticut state Senate gave final approval late Friday to a novel plan to turn the state into an abortion safe haven for patients who live in conservative states that are moving rapidly to restrict access to the procedure.

The bill, which Gov. Ned Lamont (D) has promised to sign, was designed to shield patients and abortion providers against some of the most controversial elements of recent state-level antiabortion laws — including provisions allowing private citizens to sue anyone who helps facilitate an abortion and measures seeking to prevent residents from receiving abortions across state lines.

“Legislators in [antiabortion] states have made clear that their intent is not only to ban abortion within their own states borders but to ban it in states where it is expressly permitted,” said state Rep. Matt Blumenthal (D), one of the sponsors of the bill.

The inspiration for the bill, according to Blumenthal, was a Texas law enacted last fall that relies on the threat of civil lawsuits to enforce a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The new measure adds Connecticut to a list of Democrat-led states that have sought in recent months to bolster their abortion protections in advance of a Supreme Court decision expected this summer, which could overturn or significantly weaken Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that has guaranteed the right to abortion nationwide since 1973.

But while some other states have focused largely on laws that codify the right to abortion within their own borders, legal experts say the Connecticut plan stands out for its effort to shield against new efforts in the antiabortion movement to stop abortion patients from crossing state lines to seek care in places with less restrictive laws.

Greer Donley, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who has studied antiabortion legislation, said the Democratic states that seek to protect abortion rights — but focus inward only — are adopting laws that might not withstand the challenges of a post-Roe world where antiabortion states try to legislate beyond their borders.

Those laws “are not necessarily going to provide the protections many people think [they] will,” said Donley, whose research informed some of the provisions in the Connecticut law.

California has proposed bills that offer some of the same protections as the Connecticut legislation, many of which are rapidly moving through the legislature. But no other bill wraps all the protections into one package, said David Cohen, a Drexel University law professor who worked with Donley to research antiabortion legislation.

Donley said she expects the Connecticut law will become a model for other Democrat-led states that want to protect abortion access.

“It’s definitely going to have ripple effects,” Donley said. “Once it’s enacted, people are going to take notice.”

Inside the plan to create an abortion refuge for a post-Roe era

If Roe is overturned, restricting out-of-state abortions is likely to become “the next frontier” for the antiabortion movement, Cohen said. In some states, Cohen added, the strategy has already started to emerge.

A Republican lawmaker in Missouri proposed legislation earlier this year that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a Missouri resident access abortion outside of the state, using the legal strategy behind the Texas law.

The Texas law and other laws modeled after it could be used to target providers or donors who help a Texas patient to access abortion in Connecticut, Blumenthal said.

So far, 13 states have proposed bills similar to that in Texas.

During the Connecticut Senate debate Friday night, state Sen. Saud Anwar (D) described the national abortion landscape as a “crisis.”

“We will be a place of refuge for a lot of people,” Anwar said.

Missouri lawmaker seeks to stop residents from obtaining abortions out of state

The Connecticut bill would offer broad protections from antiabortion laws that try to reach into other states.

It would allow anyone in Connecticut sued under a Texas-style abortion law to countersue for damages, attorneys’ fees and other costs associated with the lawsuit.

The measure would also shield people from out-of-state summonses or subpoenas issued in cases related to abortion procedures that are legal in Connecticut. And it would prevent Connecticut authorities from adhering to another state’s request to investigate or punish anyone involved in facilitating a legal abortion in Connecticut.

In addition to the provisions that protect Connecticut providers and patients from legal liability, the new measure would also expand access throughout the state by allowing advanced-practice registered nurses, nurse midwives and certified physicians’ assistants to perform abortions.

Some Republicans in the legislature objected to that particular provision.

“We can all agree that we want abortions to be legal, safe and rare,” said Connecticut state Rep. Kimberly Fiorello (R). “And I believe that this bill is going in the opposite direction.”

The bill garnered some bipartisan support in both the state House and Senate. In debate on Friday, state Sen. Heather Somers (R) said the

bill is necessary to protect Connecticut clinicians.

“I think it is somewhat outrageous that another state thinks it can come into our state and sue our clinicians that are performing a procedure that is legal and safe here in the state of Connecticut,” Somers said.

Roe v. Wade and abortion access in America

Roe v. Wade overturned: The Supreme Court has struck down Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years has protected the right to abortion. Read the full decision here.

What happens next?: The legality of abortion will be left to individual states. That likely will mean 52 percent of women of childbearing age would face new abortion limits. Thirteen states with “trigger bans” will ban abortion within 30 days. Several other states where recent antiabortion legislation has been blocked by the courts are expected to act next.

State legislation: As Republican-led states move to restrict abortion, The Post is tracking legislation across the country on 15-week bans, Texas-style bans, trigger laws and abortion pill bans, as well as Democratic-dominated states that are moving to protect abortion rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade.

How our readers feel: In the hours that followed the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Washington Post readers responded in droves to a callout asking how they felt — and why.