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Conn. abortion supporters push for federal protections ahead of Women’s Health Protection Act vote

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal takes questions from reporters at the Connecticut State Capitol ahead of a U.S. Senate vote expected later this week to preserve abortion rights nationwide. Recounting his co-sponsorship of a similar bill in 2013 Blumenthal said, “The possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade seem(ed) like some very distant nightmare. Now, the nightmare is real. Now, the storm has hit us.”
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
During a news conference this week at the Connecticut Capitol, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (above) said, “The possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade seem(ed) like some very distant nightmare. Now the nightmare is real. Now the storm has hit us.” A U.S. Senate vote to preserve abortion rights nationwide is expected this week.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal is leading Democrats in passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act. Lawmakers in the U.S. Senate are expected to vote this week on the bill that would preserve abortion rights nationwide and eliminate barriers to access – a vote that many predict will be symbolic in nature as supporters lack a majority in the chamber.

Blumenthal co-sponsored one of the first versions of the bill in 2013, but it gained little traction at the time.

“I had to respond to questions about why we were even introducing it at that moment, because the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade seem(ed) like some very distant nightmare,” Blumenthal said Monday. “Now the nightmare is real. Now the storm has hit us.”

The Women’s Health Protection Act seeks to eliminate restrictions on abortion access at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to overturn its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which determined that a person’s right to have an abortion is constitutionally protected.

A recent leaked Supreme Court draft opinion in Dobbs (Mississippi) v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization indicates that five of the court’s justices intend to side with Mississippi and allow its ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, by overturning Roe.

A final court opinion is not expected until this summer.

Connecticut codified access to legal abortions in 1990. But about half of states in the U.S. are likely to ban or severely restrict abortion services if Roe falls, an outcome heavily championed by people who oppose abortion.

“We need the United States to be a place where abortion is free from unnecessary barriers, especially medical barriers or legal barriers,” said Janée Woods Weber, executive director of the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Women’s Health Protection Act in September. It has stalled in the Senate.

A vote on Wednesday will be the second attempt by Senate Democrats this year to push through the measure. It failed a procedural vote in February when all Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia declined to move forward with an official vote on the bill.

Blumenthal hopes the Supreme Court opinion leak will motivate some of his colleagues to change their minds this time around.

“Because the overturning of Roe v. Wade is imminent, real, right before us,” he said. “Republicans, at least a couple of them, are talking about voting with us. And Sen. Manchin as well. But we don’t know for sure.”

The Connecticut legislature recently passed legislation that would expand access to abortion care, and create protections for providers and patients, in anticipation of a reversal of Roe. Gov. Ned Lamont signed the bill into law last week.

“The Reproductive Freedom Defense Act has been signed into law in Connecticut, but our work protecting access to abortion is not done,” Woods Weber said. “It’s not enough for us as residents of Connecticut to watch from the safe harbor of our state while abortion restrictions and bans are pushed onto our neighbors’ bodies in other states.”

Connecticut’s new law takes effect July 1.

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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