‘Republicans: Parental rights bills deserves a conversation’ | Waterbury Rep-Am

February 4, 2023

Article as published in the Waterbury Republican-American:


While abortion rights may be widely viewed as settled in Connecticut, parental notification remains an unsettling question in the ongoing abortion debate.


If you ask pro-abortion rights legislators, parental notification has zero chance of passing the General Assembly, but yet they also have been reluctant to chance the possibility of being proven wrong. And anti-abortion legislators believe a vote of the full legislature would refute them.


Republican legislators have filed several bills proposing parents be notified of a minor’s decision to have an abortion and establishing judicial bypass procedures to allow a minor to terminate a pregnancy without informing a parent or guardian.


Democratic leaders are adamant that no parental notification bill will even get a hearing, let alone a committee vote in the Democrat-controlled legislature, two necessary steps to get legislation before the House and Senate.


“It’s disconcerting that a bill like that won’t even be raised for a 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,” said House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora Jr., R-North Branford. “We require parents to sign off on ear piercings and tattoos, but we don’t do it for abortion. So, I do think we should have the conversation on the issue.”


In years past, sometimes the mere filing of an amendment to a bill to require parental notification would be enough to assure that piece of legislation would be shelved.


“When I started that was always the concern,” said House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, a legislator since 2011. “One of the reasons Connecticut did not do bills related to reproductive rights was the concern of a parental notification amendment.”


“It has sometimes played into the strategy in what might or might not be brought forward, especially late in the session when you know time is of the essence and anything on that subject would be a lengthy debate,” said Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, a 42-year veteran of the legislature.


But a showdown over parental notification may be unavoidable in the 2023 legislative session despite the Democratic majority’s refusal to permit a bill to go forward. Anti-abortion legislators will likely have more than one opening to put the proposition to the test in the House and Senate.


PRO-ABORTION RIGHTS LEGISLATORS and Gov. Ned Lamont will be proposing bills on abortion and reproductive health that will be targets for amendments proposing parental notification.


While these types of amendments have been filed since the 1990s, the legislative record indicates that the last time a parental notification amendment was called for a vote occurred in a 2010 House debate on a bill to allow students to opt out of animal dissection.


But the anti-abortion Republican sponsor withdrew the amendment after expressing disappointment that legislation proposing parental notification was denied a hearing that year.


One reason there have been no votes on parental consent amendments is the history of bipartisan support for abortion dating back to the legislature’s 1990 vote to codify the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision that had legalized abortion nationwide until it was overturned last year.


The legislature last year approved one of the most sweeping abortion bills in three decades and filed Republican amendments to add a parental notification requirement to state law were not called in the House and Senate debates. In the end, a dozen GOP legislators voted for the legislation, including Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, the eventual Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.


There are going to be a number of bills that could serve as vehicles for parental consent amendments this session.


Democratic lawmakers in the Reproductive Rights Caucus recently unveiled a series of legislative proposals to expand funding, protection and access to reproductive health care.


Lamont announced he will be asking the legislature allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control medication. Two Republican senators have already introduced such a bill, and there are Democratic and Republican bills for legalizing vending machine sales of the emergency contraceptive known as Plan B.


OPINIONS DIFFER ON THE OUTCOME of any House or Senate votes on parental notification legislation this session.


“I couldn’t anticipate what that vote would be,” said Candelora, the House GOP leader, “and part of the reason is we have never had that conversation in the legislature.”


Reps. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, and Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, leaders of the Reproductive Rights Caucus, are confident that any parental notification amendment would fail in the House.


“Our position is that the laws Connecticut currently has in place are working,” Gilchrest said. “The majority of us who are parents would want our child to speak with us if they were thinking about having an abortion, and the good news is most children do seek out a trusted adult for a conversation. But for those who do not we want to ensure they can get the health care they need, which includes abortion.”


Blumenthal said Connecticut has one of the strongest counseling laws for minors seeking an abortion in the United States.


The current law requires someone under age 16 must receive pregnancy information and counseling that includes discussion of the possibility of consulting her parents, or another adult family member.


“We believe that balance that the law strikes is the right one. It provides patients who are minors with all the information they need to make the decision, including being counseled on speaking with a parent or similar trusted adult,” Blumenthal said.


Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, a leading advocate on reproductive rights, said she does not see a parental notification amendment passing in the Senate, either.


Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said they are also certain a Senate amendment would fail.


But Sen. Robert C. Sampson, R-Wolcott, a supporter of parental notification, said he questions that assumption, and he believes Democratic leaders secretly do, too.


“It is quite clear the majority does not want to have a vote on that bill, and I think it is because it polls extremely well,” he said.


A Quinnipiac University poll from last May found that 70% of state voters then supported requiring parental notification before anyone under 16 years old could get an abortion, including 59% of Democratic voters, 80% of Republican voters and 75% of independent voters.


A LEADING ABORTION OPPONENT suggested the reason why Democrats in charge of the legislature refuse to even air a bill proposing parental notification is because they worry that requirement could pass if put to House and Senate votes.


“My question back to the other side is, what are you so afraid of?” said Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut.


He said Democratic majority leaders are adept at counting votes, and he can only conclude they refuse to let a bill advance because they know a majority of legislators would vote for parental notification.


Ritter, the House speaker, said Democratic leadership counted votes before the House took up last year’s big abortion bill, and they were certain there were enough votes to defeat a parental notification amendment that Republicans filed but did not try to pass.


He expressed confidence despite turnover in his Democratic caucus that a parental notification amendment would be defeated in 2023.


“I will just say that I think the amendment would fail, but we would be sure,” Ritter said.