Connecticut lawmakers approved a bill late Friday night that takes direct aim at states that have passed aggressive anti-abortion laws as the country prepares for a Supreme Court ruling this summer that could weaken or overturn the constitutional right to abortion enshrined in Roe v. Wade.
The Connecticut bill, which Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, has said he intends to sign, would expand the field of people who can perform certain types of abortions beyond doctors, to include nurse-midwives, physician assistants and other medical professionals.
And in what lawmakers said could be a model for other states seeking to safeguard abortion rights, the law would also shield abortion providers and patients from lawsuits initiated by states that have banned or plan to ban abortion, even outside their own borders.
The law would protect a provider in Connecticut who administers an abortion that is legal in the state to a resident of a different state where the procedure is illegal, by prohibiting Connecticut authorities from cooperating with investigative requests or extradition orders from the patient’s home state. The law would also allow people who are sued over their role in providing an abortion to countersue in Connecticut court, and to recoup legal fees and other costs if they win.
As states across the country prepare for the possibility of a post-Roe world, many are tightening restrictions on abortion. Twenty-six states — a swath stretching from Florida to Idaho — would ban or severely restrict the procedure if the court overturns Roe.
On the other side of the issue, Connecticut joins California, Maryland and Colorado in trying to protect abortion access, by increasing the number of providers. But Connecticut’s bill goes further than laws in other states by protecting providers and women who seek abortions from prosecution by authorities in places where abortion could become illegal.
Connecticut is preparing for what could be pitched legal battles between states. Legislation in some states, including Missouri, have proposed making abortion illegal even when one of its residents travels outside the state to get the procedure. A law in effect since September in Texas bans abortions after six weeks, relying on members of the public to sue anyone, from a taxi driver to the doctor, who “aids or abets” a woman seeking an abortion there.
Idaho and Oklahoma have passed similar laws, and lawmakers in states that protect abortion rights say they fear that residents of their states who donate to funds that help women in restrictive states travel for abortions could be prosecuted.
“The states that have passed some of these quite extreme laws have indicated that they are interested not only in attacking abortions that are within their borders, but also in places where it is expressly legal,” State Representative Matt Blumenthal, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said in an interview. “Other states that do support abortion rights are going to need to pass laws like this in order to protect their residents and their health care providers.”
The Connecticut law anticipates a spike in out-of-state demand should the Supreme Court overturn Roe. The legislation expands who can perform in-clinic procedures known as suction or aspiration abortions, joining just over a dozen other states that have similar rules.
Amanda N. Skinner, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, said in an interview that there was already anecdotal evidence that some out-of-state patients were seeking abortions at her group’s Connecticut clinics, and providers anticipate more — and legal battles to come.
“We needed to do everything in our power to ensure that they feel as safe as possible coming to our community, and that our health care providers feel confident in their ability to provide care for people — regardless where they come from,” Ms. Skinner said. “The urgency of this moment is incredibly clear.”
The Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that supports abortion rights, anticipates that women seeking abortions would have to travel much farther to find a provider who could perform one legally. A woman in Ohio, for example, would have to travel 186 miles one way to have access to a legal abortion if the court overturns the Roe protections, compared to 19 miles now. Data shows that in restrictive states like Texas, women have flooded across state borders to seek abortions elsewhere.
The State of Abortion in the U.S.
Who gets abortions in America? The typical patient is most likely already a mother, poor, unmarried, in her late 20s, has some college education and is very early in pregnancy. Teenagers today are having far fewer abortions. Nearly half of abortions happen in the first six weeks of pregnancy, and nearly all in the first trimester.
Where are most abortions performed? According to a 2017 census of abortion providers, the largest state share of abortions were performed in California, at 15.4 percent, followed by New York, with 12.2 percent. The third-highest state was Florida with 8.2 percent.
How could the Supreme Court affect abortion access? The justices’ upcoming ruling on a Mississippi law could dramatically change abortion access in the United States, and possibly overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.
What will happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned? Abortion would remain legal in more than half of the states, but not in a wide swath of the Midwest and the South. While some women will be able to travel out of state or rely on pills to terminate a pregnancy, many in lower-income groups might not have access.
Are there other efforts underway to restrict abortions? Several Republican-led state legislatures have already moved to advance new restrictions. Texas and Oklahoma have approved near-total bans on abortion, while Florida and Kentucky have passed bans on the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Idaho Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a law that would ban abortions in the state after 6 weeks.
Are any states moving to protect abortion rights? Thirty states and the District of Columbia are considering measures to protect access to abortion. Lawmakers in Vermont voted to move forward on an amendment to the state constitution that would guarantee the right to an abortion. A package of bills in California seeks to make the state a “refuge” for women seeking abortions.
What about abortion pills? More than half of U.S. abortions are now carried out with abortion pills, and the Food and Drug Administration has said it will permanently allow patients to receive them by mail. But some states have already begun proposing new restrictions and heavier criminal penalties on medication abortion.
“The law lets abortion providers take solace and confidently provide care for their patients and worry less about these frivolous, vigilante lawsuits thrown at them,” said Katherine L. Kraschel, the executive director of the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy at Yale Law School. She testified in support of the Connecticut law. “But equally important is that we have enough providers able to provide abortion, given that we will probably have people seeking abortions from elsewhere.”
In Connecticut, where the right to have an abortion has been part of state law since 1990, the new proposed law received bipartisan support. In the state House of Representatives, several Republicans joined members of the Democratic majority to pass the bill by a vote of 87-60. After hours of debate on Friday night, state senators voted 25-9 to pass the bill.
Yet while abortion rights advocates say the Connecticut law could be a blueprint for other states, critics say it violates longstanding norms of interstate legal cooperation. And in an indication that the abortion issue does not break purely along party lines in Connecticut, more than a dozen Democrats — most from the Black and Puerto Rican caucus — voted against the measure.
In an interview, Rep. Treneé McGee, an anti-abortion Democrat, cited the overrepresentation of Black women as abortion patients, and her belief that birth control and abortion measures are historically rooted in eugenics that targeted Black people, as reasons for her no vote. “In many different ways we have been a target of the abortion industry,” said Rep. McGee, who is Black. Some state senators raised similar objections while the bill was being debated Friday night.
Peter Wolfgang, the executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, an anti-abortion nonprofit organization, said the bill, which the group fought, was unnecessary because abortion rights are already enshrined in state law.
“God willing, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade,” he said. “But it is not like abortion would suddenly be illegal the day after in Connecticut.”