Connecticut AG plans abortion legal hotline, special counsel

Responding to the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Connecticut attorney general William Tong unveiled an abortion hotline Tuesday and announced that he will hire a special counsel to defend abortion rights.

Surrounded by legislators and advocates, Tong discussed his multipart plan to counter the high court’s decision in June to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision.

While the court’s decision is nearly four months old, Tong said that advocates are still adjusting to the new reality.

“It is still, for many of us, disorienting because like a lot of people, I had only grown up in a world in which abortion was safe, legal, and accessible,’' Tong told reporters in Hartford. “I was born a month before Roe was decided, and now it’s gone.’'

While some say that Connecticut is protected because the legislature codified Roe into law more than 30 years ago, advocates said they are still pressing forward.

“The fall of Roe was not the end. It was just the beginning,’' Tong said. “The beginning of an assault, an attack on women, patients, doctors, nurses, and health care providers ... and just the beginning of our strong defense in building a firewall around women, patients, doctors, nurses and health care providers.’'

After the legislature passed a bill that was signed into law this year by Gov. Ned Lamont, Connecticut has become a sanctuary state as other states have outlawed abortion.

Overall, at least 75 women have traveled to Connecticut from other states, including Texas, for abortions since September 2021 when the Supreme Court refused to block a strict law in Texas that essentially prohibited abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

“Connecticut is looked to. There are many other states that are looking to us,’' said Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, a West Hartford Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s reproductive rights caucus. “This is a start. We are not done. We are continuing on.’'

Tong is starting the search to hire a special counsel for reproductive rights with money already set aside in his budget. He said that Gov. Ned Lamont has agreed in principle to provide more funding, and the request is expected to be considered by the state legislature as part of the overall budget after the next regular session convenes in January.

Tong’s office did not provide a salary range for the special counsel, saying it will be based on the person’s experience.

The counsel will “lead our work in protecting abortion access in any court, in any state where reproductive rights are challenged,’' Tong said.

Free hotline

In a joint effort with New York Attorney General Letitia James, Connecticut residents can call a special hotline that is staffed by volunteer attorneys who will offer legal guidance for free. A separate hotline has already been providing information about abortion, but it does not offer legal advice.

“Some of the biggest law firms in the world are a part of this hotline,’' Tong said. “It is an army of lawyers.’'

Among the major legal firms involved are Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Those seeking legal assistance can call the New York City number at 212-899-5567.

With about 30 advocates gathered at a news conference, Tong and others said it is no time to be complacent about legal rights.

“Abortion is legal and protected in Connecticut. That’s not good enough,’' Tong said. “Women, patients, and providers are confused about their rights, and afraid that out-of-state extremists could seek to criminalize their lawful personal and professional choices. Today’s announcement provides clarity, as well as the legal resources, to protect and defend our rights and choices.’'

Chris Healy, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic bishops in Connecticut, said abortion will continue to be debated when the legislature reconvenes next year.

“Attorney General Tong’s proposal is nothing more than political pandering when our public policy should be to support young women at a critical moment in their lives,’' Healy said. “The Dobbs decision rightfully placed the matter of abortion with the state legislature, and this plan does little more than make Connecticut a destination site for the taking of human life. We look forward to any debate next year to protect the unborn through understanding and love for life.”

House Republican leader Vincent Candelora of North Branford said the discussion of abortion is political with only four weeks left before the Nov. 8 election.

“Sadly, state Democrats continue to weaponize the topic of women’s reproductive health by stepping in front of television cameras to double down on their false narrative that elected Republicans and candidates here are threatening a health care choice that’s enshrined in Connecticut law,’' Candelora said. “They’re doing it because they’ve failed miserably on the affordability and public safety concerns that we’re hearing about as we knock on doors in our communities. Majority Democrats don’t have a plan to reduce the cost of living in Connecticut or make our neighborhoods safer. Unfortunately, anyone who is looking to Democrats to get serious about those issues will find them solely fixated on using women’s reproductive health care as a campaign tool.’'

Christopher Keating can be reached at