Connecticut: Reproductive Care and Choice in the Constitution State

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision on the Dobbs versus Jackson Womens Health Organization abortion case, it makes sense to explore some particular US states with respect to reproductive care, including the issue of the right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy. Today, we will cover the state of Connecticut, affectionately called Constitution State, which is appropriate, given that Connecticut protects the right to choose in the current post-Roe era. But while Connecticut has been strongly pro-choice for more than a generation, it’s also a state that passed early laws against abortion back, and against contraception, back in the 19th century.

In 1990, the Connecticut legislature codified reproductive rights in line with the standard of Roe v Wade. More recently, in the current year, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed executive orders and legislation guaranteeing any woman in Connecticut the right to an abortion, along with full legal protection for abortion recipients and providers. This includes covering damages for anyone who is assaulted by another state or by anti-abortion activists in connection with abortion. Should any an anti-abortion state  attempt to bring legal action against any Connecticut abortion care provider for terminating the pregnancy of any resident who travels to Connecticut from the other state, Connecticut will protect that provider. No demands for extradition to the other state will be honored. Also, as part of one of the most liberal state abortion policies, Connecticut now allows, not only physicians (MDs and DOs) to provide abortion care, but also allows mid-level health practitioners trained in abortion care to provide that care. This mid-level provider category means physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and midwives, provided that they are trained appropriately for the abortion services that they provide. Certain mid-level providers are especially qualified to provide this care on account of devoting much of their time providing abortion care in comparison with obstetricians for whom abortion care might comprise just a small portion of their practice.

Often, there are more providers qualified to provide medication abortions than procedural abortions, because most abortion seekers really only need medication abortion, which can be offered up to a gestational age of 77 days, meaning day 77, counting the first day of your last menstrual period as day 1. Many such providers work for, or through, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, which manages 14 of the 15 abortion care facilities in Connecticut. If you go to a Planned Parenthood center in Connecticut, seeking an abortion, whether you are attended by an OB/GYN, a family practice physician with abortion training, or a mid-level practitioner with abortion training, you can be sure that you’re in good hands. Also, it’s worth noting that Connecticut funds abortion for low income patients through a program called the Husky Program.

Here is some background on the Dobbs decision that you may know from reading previous posts on The Pulse. The decision involved a Mississippi law prohibiting abortions beyond a gestational age of 15 weeks. While six justices voted to uphold the Mississippi law (and three voted against it), five of those six justices also voted to overturn the Roe V Wade decision of 1973.

Connecticut’s strong pro-choice environment stand in opposition to the state’s history, beginning with the fact that the first abortion law in the US was passed by Connecticut in 1821. It should be noted that passage of the law was triggered by a sex scandal involving a preacher and that the law did not prohibit early abortion, but only abortion following the onset of quickening (the mother feeling the fetus move), as reported by the mother. The state expanded on that law in 1860 and then, in 1879, Connecticut passed legislation, co-authored by P. T. Barnum (the circus showman), criminalizing the prescription and use of contraception. However, the anti-contraception rule of Connecticut and of other states ended in 1965, when the SCOTUS decided the Griswold v. Connecticut case, establishing the right to contraception, at least among married couples.

In 1970, New York became one of just a handful of US states to allow elective abortion at the discretion of doctors. 1970 is the same year in which the Roe v Wade case began in Dallas, Texas, although it would take time to reach the SCOTUS and more time for SCOTUS to review the case, leading to the famous Roe v Wade decision in 1973. Consequently, there was a period during which women from Connecticut and other states obtained abortions in New York. In fact, within 45 days of New York’s 1970 law going into effect, more than 100 Connecticut women crossed the border for legal abortions. But the need to travel from Connecticut to New York ended with the Roe decision in January 1973. And while many states are now taking away such rights on account of the Dobbs decision of 2022, the rights defined by the Roe decision are alive and well in the Constitution state.

David Warmflash
Dr. David Warmflash is a science communicator and physician with a research background in astrobiology and space medicine. He has completed research fellowships at NASA Johnson Space Center, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brandeis University. Since 2002, he has been collaborating with The Planetary Society on experiments helping us to understand the effects of deep space radiation on life forms, and since 2011 has worked nearly full time in medical writing and science journalism. His focus area includes the emergence of new biotechnologies and their impact on biomedicine, public health, and society.

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