Waiting outside Central Connecticut State University’s Lawrence Davidson Hall to catch a glimpse of Vice President Kamala Harris as she left the campus, a group of students and young people — some in support of abortion rights, others against — are engaged in an intense debate.
The Pro-Life group carry signs that read “Let God Plan Parenthood” and “CCSU for Life.” Pro-choice students hold up spiral-bound notebooks flipped to a blank page where they have written in block letters messages like “CCSU 4 Women’s Rights.”
The impromptu debate was expected given the forum inside, billed as an official visit rather than a campaign event, with Harris, Rep. Jahana Hayes, and Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood – all supporters of abortion rights.
Hayes is locked in a tight race for re-election with Republican George Logan.
During the discussion, with an audience that appeared mostly made up of Democratic state politicians and officials, Harris affirmed the Biden administration’s commitment to supporting women who sought out abortions. Harris said that the Department of Health and Human Services had issued guidance to pharmacies about their legal obligations in providing patients with medication, and that the Department of Justice was gathering pro-bono legal assistance for healthcare providers and others who might need protection from litigation for performing abortions.
The Vice President also praised Connecticut for codifying laws that give women the right to have an abortion. She pointed out that there was a correlation between states that tried to block abortion access and high maternal mortality rates, and she pointed out the lack of access to health care in rural areas and how women of color and women living in rural areas have a higher likelihood of dying in childbirth.
“There’s more work to be done, and we’ve been talking about this and working on this… for years before the Dobbs decision came down. And then when you compound it with what the Dobbs decision means on this issue, it compounds the concern that the resources are not there to address what will be a growing need,” Harris said.
Outside the hall, Jenna Noce, a junior at CCSU and one of the young people debating the issue with other students, told CT Examiner that she’d listened to Harris speak on the livestream recording of the event, and said she was pleased with what she heard.
“I think she spoke very eloquently about it and I think her views reflect a lot of people in Connecticut and across the country, but especially in Connecticut,” said Noce.
Noce said that the decision of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade made her nervous, especially as a member of the LGBT community. She said that she worried that the precedent of overturning Roe v. Wade could be used to overturn other previously decided court cases, such as the right to contraception and rights pertaining to LGBT individuals.
“I feel like a lot of these things affect most of us, if not all of us,” Noce said.
Another student, sophomore Lauren Cedrone, told CT Examiner that she felt the arguing she was hearing around the issue of women’s rights was “a little crazy.”
“It’s not something that everyone should have the say over, especially if a lot of the evidence that they use to support their arguments are religion-based. Their religion doesn’t apply to the entire country,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense for you to repress my own autonomy because you believe a different thing. No one’s saying that they can’t get abortions or they can’t believe what they believe. We’re just saying that you don’t have to impose your beliefs on everyone else in the country.”
But Marcelina Halas, a sophomore at CCSU on the other side of the debate, said that she believed that abortion was tantamount to murder of the child that was not yet born.
“Science shows life begins at conception. So if abortion is the termination of a pregnancy, then that is essentially murder. They’re murdering that human individual, that human being,” she said.
Halas said she had come out in part to challenge the university and to ask whether they would be willing to have a pro-life candidate speak at CCSU.
“They’re committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, all that, but … this is very one-sided. We want to see both sides being represented,” she said.
Junior Niya Smith, who had been listening to the argument between the students, said that she felt frustrated with the whole conversation, which she said left out transgender individuals and didn’t focus on the particular needs of women of color.
“I think the conversation as a whole needs to start with the most marginalized groups,” she said. “It shouldn’t start with women, women, women.”
Nearby, Kristin Todzia said that she and her husband, Sam, had joined the protest outside the hall after first stopping by a local Catholic church to pray. The Todzia’s have six children — three biological and three adopted — including an eight-month-old boy that Kristin Todzia was carrying.
“Every person is precious. You know, look at this little boy,” said Sam Todzia. “He’s eight months old, but we celebrated him for nine months before that.”
He said he recognized that the mothers of his three adopted children made a difficult decision to give birth to their children, and he said that their courage gave him and his wife the ability to have the family they have now.
“Probably the easy way out would’ve been for her not to choose life. But she was courageous enough to do so, and we have a family because of it. So we’re so grateful to her,” he said.
Sam said he wished Connecticut was a more pro-life state, and Kristin Todzia said that she wished Connecticut was friendlier toward crisis pregnancy centers, rather than trying to restrict their operations.
“It’s really, really, disheartening because they exist to support women and children and they’re beautiful,” she said. “These are people who are out there only to support and help. There’s no secret, evil agenda.”
The election season
Harris’ appearance at CCSU underscored her support of Hayes, whose name will be on the ballot for re-election in November.
“Please send her back to Congress,” Harris said at one point during the discussion Wednesday.
Harris highlighted the importance of having a federal law that would make a woman’s right to abortion legal across the country, and said the president would be prepared to sign such a law if Congress passed it.
“If we could get federal legislation … the states that are criminalizing healthcare providers, doctors, nurses, other healthcare providers could not do it — they would have to stop. These states that are doing this abhorrent, immoral thing of saying no exception for rape or incest would have to stop … they couldn’t do that anymore. And if they did, they’d probably be sued,” she said.
Hayes has voted in support of similar bills that have been raised in the U.S. House of Representatives. In an earlier interview with CT Examiner, Hayes said that she felt it was necessary to codify the right to have an abortion into law, and said that having a “patchwork” of different state laws was “flawed.”
“The overturning of Roe versus Wade left the United States with a patchwork of state laws governing abortion. This ruling did not only have implications for abortion access, but for the right to contraceptives and the legality of same sex and interracial marriages,” Hayes said at the event. “Here in Connecticut, Governor Lamont and the Connecticut General Assembly took swift action to protect and expand a woman’s right to privacy over her reproductive health decisions. However, as legislation is being proposed for a nationwide abortion ban, the rights of the people here in Connecticut could be at risk.”
In a call with reporters, Logan, who is running against Hayes for U.S. Representative in the 5th Congressional District of Connecticut, called the event a “missed opportunity” to address issues like the economy, the opioid crisis and border security.
“In Connecticut, a woman’s right to choose is baked into state law, right? It’s codified in state statute. Today, people need to hear from my opponent and Vice President Harris about their solutions for our economy here in Connecticut, which is one of the worst in the country,” said Logan.
Logan said that he supported “a woman’s right to choose,” although he said he does not support “late-term” abortions and said that parental consent should be required for minors to have an abortion.
“Parents have a child who’s 14, 15, 16 years old and seeking an abortion — [Hayes] doesn’t believe that the parents should be notified. I strongly disagree with that sentiment. I do believe in parental notification when it comes to abortion, just as any other major medical procedure to be done on a parents’ child,” said Logan.
State Republican Party Chair Ben Proto, who joined the call, agreed with Logan that the Vice President’s choice to address abortion ignored the more urgent problem of inflation.
“The reason that she’s here is to basically fear monger on an issue that’s not really an issue in the state of Connecticut.” said Proto. “We’re seeing [the issue of abortion] float further and further down the issues ranking with voters as the economic inflation and cost and affordability issues move further and further up the list of people’s concern.”