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Connecticut Wants to Help Women Travel to Safe Harbor States

State lawmakers from the Connecticut Reproductive Rights Caucus in 2023 have introduced several bills that would increase funding, protection and access to reproductive care for residents and out-of-state travelers.

(TNS) — Democratic state lawmakers from the Connecticut Reproductive Rights Caucus in 2023 hope to expand funding, protection and access to reproductive health care, including to patients from abortion-banning states by offering financial assistance to those who travel to Connecticut for the procedure.

The caucus, which met in Hartford Wednesday to outline legislative priorities, introduced several new bills that would increase the number of birthing centers in the state, boost medical data privacy provisions for consumers, increase training and protections for reproductive health care providers, expand access and affordability of reproductive health, and offer abortion pills on college campuses.

Additionally, the caucus threw support behind other causes, such as extending state Medicaid “HUSKY” insurance to undocumented immigrants and expanding fertility insurance coverage to non-heterosexual couples and single people looking to grow their families.

“This session the Reproductive Rights Caucus is focused on policies that will expand access to the totality of reproductive health care,” said Caucus Chair Rep. Jillian Gilchrest. “We want to ensure that in the state of Connecticut, whether someone decides to have a child or not to have a child, they have access to the information and services they need to fulfill that decision.”

While focusing on in-state reproductive needs, state Treasurer Erick Russell and caucus members said they also plan to broaden the scope of last year’s safe harbor law by establishing a fund to cover collateral costs for patients who travel to Connecticut for an abortion.

“We know that who is going to be most impacted by these bans are women of color. It’s going to be members of the LGBTQ community. It’s gonna be individuals living in poverty. And this is an opportunity for us to allow those resources that we can provide, to be used to help patients get to Connecticut and seek the care that they really need,” Russell said.

Russell said that he has been in touch with state treasurers from across the U.S. about forming a nationwide coalition among safe harbor states to provide financial assistance to abortion seekers.

When asked to share his thoughts on the fund, Gov. Ned Lamont said he had not heard about the proposal and that he would need to take a look at the fiscal note of the program before commenting.

“I like what we did on the safe harbor [law] last year,” Lamont said in response. “I think that made a big difference. Some women are taking advantage of that and I think that’s important.”

Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, the chair of the Reproductive Rights Caucus, said that in conversations Planned Parenthood of Southern New England confirmed that they have seen an uptick in out-of-state patients seeking abortion in Connecticut clinics.

While no member of the caucus specified a price tag or the number of women predicted to take advantage of such a fund, House Speaker Matt Ritter said he is under the impression from Russell that the program will not result in a large line item on the budget.

“What’s fundamentally so cruel about [abortion restrictions] is that people with resources are not denied any access,” Ritter said. “The bills they’re passing are hurting … the poorest of people. So if Connecticut can provide a couple hundred thousand dollars or a line item to help those individuals, I’m all for it.”

Ritter added that financing the safe harbor fund would not result in cuts to other programs.

House Minority Leader Rep. Vincent Candelora said he is concerned about funneling taxpayer dollars into this type of fund.

“I generally have concerns whether it be on health care matters or education matters of us continuing or creating policies that are paying for people outside the state of Connecticut to receive our services when they’re not paying taxes in the state of Connecticut,” Candelora said. “That type of policy presumes that Connecticut is fiscally in good health and it’s not. We’ve got to take care of our own.”

Candelora also criticized the Reproductive Rights Caucus for its lack of Republican representation.

“To be clear, no Republican has been invited to join that caucus. So it is a partisan organization, which is disappointing and again points to how weaponized that issue has become for Democrats,” Candelora said. “It allows Democrats to set the narrative on abortion so they can paint Republicans any way they want. They call us extremists even when we have prochoice Republicans in our caucus.”

Candelora said that the parties need to engage in more discussion on the topic of abortion, including the controversial Republican push to require that minors notify their parents in order to receive an abortion.

He expressed disappointment that Ritter would not call a parental notification bill to the House floor.

“It’s disconcerting that a bill like that won’t even be raised for a public hearing to have a conversation because I think it’s worthy to debate whether a parent should know if a 12 year old child of theirs is getting an abortion,” Candelora said. “We require parents to sign off on ear piercings and tattoos, but we don’t do it for abortion.”

Ritter said that in the past, concerns over a potential parental notification amendment prevented Connecticut lawmakers from tackling reproductive rights legislation. Last May, the legislature expanded abortion-related protections without adding a parental notification rider. This session, Ritter is confident that any attempt to add such an amendment to the proposed reproductive rights bills would fail.

“You have instances where [parental notification is] not possible. You have instances where the family member was the perpetrator in some cases that impregnated somebody,” Ritter said. “You cannot have a blanket rule without thinking about the realities that some young ladies face. And that’s why when I think you have that conversation and you explain why the parental notification doesn’t work, I believe the amendment would fail.”

Earlier in the day at the press conference, Ritter said that Connecticut’s reproductive rights laws are “far from settled.”

“Connecticut is under attack from other states, we’re under attack from the U.S. Supreme Court. We’re never quite sure what they’re gonna do. And so, like so many other issues, it’s left to the state legislatures that take the lead and to protect women, to protect families, to protect health care providers. And that is exactly what we are going to do because it’s far from settled,” Ritter said.

Despite past calls on the legislature to draft a state constitutional amendment that would explicitly protect abortion in Connecticut, Reproductive Rights Caucus leaders said that they would not pursue that route.

“A constitutional amendment is not on the Reproductive Rights Caucus’s priority agenda for this session,” Caucus Chair Rep. Matt Blumenthal said. “We in the caucus believe that our protections that are currently in place and the ones that we’re planning to adopt this session should fully protect the infrastructure and access of individuals here in the state of Connecticut. And we also believe that the state constitution currently provides protections under its right to privacy and equal rights amendment for these rights as well.”

©2023 Hartford Courant. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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