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Southeastern Connecticut reacts to leak of draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade

Tracey Burto said when she was watching CNN on Tuesday morning and heard about the Supreme Court's leaked draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, she was "just overwhelmed with outrage and anger, and just disgust."

Burto, a Democratic city councilor in Norwich, got pregnant when she was 16. Her mother took her to Planned Parenthood for an abortion, which she called "the best decision my mother ever made for me."

"Until you experience it, until you have a fetus inside of you, you have no business making a decision whatsoever," said Burto, 42, having noted that people making decisions on women's health care are usually men.

Politico reported Monday night that it had obtained a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito in February, which holds that Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey "must be overruled" and "it is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people's elected representatives."

Connecticut Right to Life said in a statement that the draft opinion "is good news — but doesn't go far enough." The group said that "rather than issuing a more principled 'unborn personhood' determination" and banning abortion, the Supreme Court would be leaving this up to states.

"An unborn child could soon be regarded as a 'person' in one state, but a piece of property in a neighboring state," Bill O'Brien, vice president of the Connecticut Right to Life Corporation, said in the statement. "This would be akin to the status of pre-Civil War slavery, where Blacks were free in the Northern states, but slaves in the South."

He added that if the decision is enacted, people in the Right to Life movement would have to "redouble our efforts," especially in Connecticut, to establish "unborn personhood" statewide and nationally.

Neither the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference nor a spokesperson for the Diocese of Norwich responded to a call and email seeking a response. In a statement, the Archdiocese of Hartford wrote in part: "Although the framework for the opinion is strictly legal, it is no less a moral victory for all who believe the truth that life begins at conception and is to be protected by law," NBC reported.

Rev. Carolyn Patierno, senior minister at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation in New London, organized a vigil early Tuesday evening outside the Huntington Street courthouse — seven months after she organized an abortion rights march in New London, both part of nationwide efforts coordinated by Women's March.

Patierno expressed concern about a domino effect, questioning, "If this passes, what will be next? Will marriage equality be on the agenda?"

Standing with about 20 other people outside the courthouse shortly after 5 p.m., All Souls member Kate Treadwell-Hill, 80, recalled how her friends managed to get safe abortions before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, but said many other women were not so fortunate.

"I lived through the era of illegal abortion. It was horrible," she said, "and then we had 50 years of sanity, and now we're going back to insanity."

In a phone call earlier in the day, Stonington resident Lynn Young said she is "decidedly pro-choice" and "would be extremely disappointed" if the decision were to hold but is equally disappointed in the leak itself. Young said she has "growing alarm at the destruction of the foundations of government." She said the Supreme Court has always been above politics but she thinks this was a political move.

"Now what happens?" she questioned. "You got nine justices who are fairly collegial and can talk to one another and clerks that work with one another, so what happens next? Are they going to be in silos?"

'Unprecedented leak'

Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the draft, said he was ordering an investigation into its disclosure and pledged that the "work of the Court will not be affected in any way," Politico reported. This is part of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health case, which is over Mississippi's law banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Asked to share input on the leaked draft decision, several Day readers focused on the element of the leak, saying this shouldn't have been leaked and whoever leaked it was wrong, the leak violates the sanctity of the Supreme Court, and the leak should be investigated.

The Pro-Life Council of Connecticut said Tuesday in a Facebook post that the leak was wrong, adding, "The job of every Supreme Justice is to judge and interpret the law. The Supreme Court job is not to legislate from the bench or to make decisions per public opinion."

Planned Parenthood of Southern New England said this "unprecedented leak," if true, would reverse nearly 50 years of precedent but stressed that abortion is still legal and this is a draft opinion with no legal authority.

"This leaked opinion confirms our worst fears: the U.S. Supreme Court is prepared to end the constitutional right to abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade," President and CEO Amanda Skinner said. "This is a national crisis for reproductive freedom."

In a news conference the House Reproductive Rights Caucus held at the state Capitol mid-day Tuesday, Liz Gustafson said she proudly and unapologetically shares her story because her abortion "allowed me to shape my future and celebrate my present." Gustafson is the state director of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut.

Claudine Constant, ACLU Connecticut's public policy and advocacy director, said that beyond the process of abortion, the state and country need to consider the conditions into which children are born, pointing to issues like the maternal mortality rate and mental health care.

Care Net — an anti-abortion evangelical Christian network of crisis pregnancy centers, with a location in New London — on its Facebook page Tuesday said that "everyone who considers themselves to be pro-life" should re-read a Care Net blog post from August called, "Are We Prepared to Win?"

The post said that the Supreme Court hearing a case regarding Mississippi's 2018 law was "great news" and "a reason for hope," it won't make unplanned pregnancies go away.

"And when those unplanned pregnancies happen, there will be many more women and men — thousands? hundreds of thousands? — looking for a place to turn to for help in the absence of their ability to get an abortion. Are we ready to receive them?" the post said. Care Net encouraged churches to offer visible ministries for people considering abortion.

Asked for comment Tuesday, the executive director of Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeastern Connecticut said she needed to refer all media requests to Alliance Defending Freedom, because Care Net is involved in a lawsuit.

According to Gallup polling from last May, 58% of respondents nationwide don't want to see Roe v. Wade overturned while 32% do. Among those surveyed, 32% think abortion should be legal under any circumstance, 48% legal only under certain circumstances, and 19% illegal in all circumstances.

Day Staff Writer Sten Spinella contributed to this report.

e.moser@theday.com

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