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Reproductive rights advocates mark Roe v. Wade, while facing uncertain future

Planned Parenthood of Southern New England's Gretchen Raffa takes part in a January 21, 2022 gathering in Hartford marking the anniversary of the Roe V. Wade Supreme Court decision.
Image from a CT-N video feed.
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England's Gretchen Raffa takes part in a January 21, 2022, gathering in Hartford marking the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Connecticut legislators and reproductive rights advocates gathered in Hartford Friday to mark the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade – perhaps for the last time.

“We’re moving into a new era in the fight for reproductive freedom,” said state Rep. Jillian Gilchrest.

The U.S. Supreme Court in December heard arguments in a case in which Mississippi seeks to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

With a conservative majority of court justices, pro-choice advocates say there’s a high probability that the 1973 court decision in Roe v. Wade will at least in part be dismantled and abortion laws will again be left up to the states.

“I’m outraged, because we actually all knew this day was coming,” said Gretchen Raffa, vice president of public policy, advocacy and organizing at Planned Parenthood Votes Connecticut. “What we’re seeing is the culmination of anti-abortion politicians and protesters' decades-long plan to outlaw abortion completely.”

Dozens of states have passed similar restrictions or bans on abortion – most cannot be enacted while the decision in Roe v. Wade stands, but abortion supporters say they’re preparing for the worst.

“On what may be the last anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the question you must ask yourself is this: Do you believe that a person should be free to make a decision about their health, their body and their life?” Gilchrest said at the gathering. “If you agree the answer is yes, then you need to get loud and you need to get involved.”

In preparation of a possible federal rollback, the Connecticut legislature has formed a new Reproductive Health Caucus. Co-chairs Gilchrest and Rep. Matt Blumenthal said the caucus has 40 members and is growing.

Legislators want to pass bills to help modernize the state’s reproductive care and abortion laws by making it easier for certified medical providers to perform abortions, improving insurance coverage for such care, and increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates.

“We’re going to be pursuing an agenda of reproductive freedom here in the state of Connecticut to make Connecticut a freedom state,” Blumenthal said, “a state that ensures access for all residents and people who pursue reproductive health care here in Connecticut.”

Blumenthal said that means abortions, including those sought by residents of other states who may come to Connecticut to get an abortion.

Raffa said improvements in the state’s already expansive abortion laws – Connecticut codified Roe in state law in 1990 – will help residents who face systemic barriers to getting care, barriers like racism, economic inequity, immigration status and transphobia.

“We know who these barriers hurt the most – Black and Latinx people, people with low incomes, people who live in rural areas, members of the LGBTQ+ community, specifically trans and nonbinary people, and anyone who is shut out of our health care system,” she said. “This is outrageous. Connecticut can and must do better.”

But change must go beyond law, said Liz Gustafson, the state director of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut.

“We must not only continue to fight for bold policies that support people’s whole lives, but also must work toward a world where our abortion stories are respected, heard and uplifted,” Gustafson said.

Gustafson shared the story of her own abortion in 2018.

“My decision to have an abortion was not a difficult one. Being pregnant when I did not want to be, was,” she said. “All abortions and decisions to have an abortion are unique, individual and deserve respect. I proudly and unapologetically share my story, because it is beyond time to be loud and support the people who have abortions and the medical professionals that ensure abortion access happens every day.”

The Connecticut legislative session begins next month. A Supreme Court decision in the Mississippi case is expected later this year.

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.

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