Half a dozen women active in Democratic politics from Wilton, Weston, Redding and Ridgefield, organized a rally in support of abortion rights on Sunday afternoon, May 15, on the front lawn of Wilton Town Hall. The rally, called Voices for Choices, was held in reaction to the recently leaked Supreme Court draft opinion indicating the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion is likely to be overturned.
Speaking at the event were several Democratic state and local government officials as well as political candidates, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, Attorney General William Tong, State Rep. (and candidate for secretary of state) Stephanie Thomas, and candidate for Wilton state senator, Ceci Maher. There were also women who shared their own abortion stories.
The rally was described as a regional response to the threat to Roe, and it featured almost exclusively Democratic-affiliated politicians who either currently hold public office or are running as candidates.
After the event, Toni Boucher, the Republican candidate for the State Senate 26th District seat representing Wilton told GOOD Morning Wilton she was disappointed with what she said was a partisan event that looked more like a campaign rally to elect Democrats rather than a gathering in support of abortion rights. Both Boucher and Kim Healy, who is the Republican candidate running for Wilton’s State Representative for the newly created 42nd District, attended the rally and said they were disappointed at the conclusion of the event.
While it might not have been billed as a campaign event, organizers didn’t seem to hide the fact that they believe electing Democrats increases the chances of defending reproductive and other rights they see as under attack. They said as much before, during and after the event.
“This has become obviously a very political issue and we do feel that the Republican party and conservatives have made it so. We feel that it’s really important that we have Democrats in office that are going to protect our rights,” Melissa Spohn, the primary Wilton resident on the event steering committee, told GOOD Morning Wilton leading up to the rally.
It was the main reason organizers limited the event to Democratic-affiliated speakers, although Spohn did say anyone was welcome to attend and demonstrate bipartisan support for protecting Roe v. Wade.
Spohn later added that while organizers did not reach out to the Wilton Republican Town Committee or individual republicans to seek bipartisan support, they did “welcome the attendance of anyone and everyone who is concerned about the loss of their rights.”
Organizers told GMW that the steering committee that put the rally together — “in just a matter of days” — was made up of women active in Democratic politics. Spohn is a former DTC member who no longer sits on the DTC. Other Wilton DTC members did help organize the rally and the DTC did actively promote the event, but Spohn said the DTC was not an official sponsor or organizer. That was confirmed by Tom Dubin, Wilton DTC Chair.
Gayle Weinstein, the chair of Weston’s Democratic Town Committee was also one of the organizers as well as the event’s emcee.
After the event, Weinstein acknowledged that some local Republicans were unhappy they were unable to participate and show their pro-choice support. But, she said, calling yourself pro-choice is not enough.
“I’m very grateful that there are Republicans in our state who are pro-choice and who are willing to speak up. The problem that I have is, I don’t think that they’re willing to speak up loud enough. It’s great to come to an area where everyone is pro-choice and speak up,” she said.
Weinstein said the Democratic platform explicitly supports abortion rights; not so the Republican platform.
“Republicans have the opposite in their platform. So until I start seeing those Republicans speaking up to their gubernatorial candidates, until I see them forming their own rallies, where they stand up and speak for pro-choice, I don’t feel it’s necessary to [invite them to] come to a rally that is organized by a person who happens to be chair of their Town Democratic Committee,” she said.
Weinstein said that even though Connecticut has support on both sides of the political aisle for reproductive rights, that’s not the case outside of Connecticut. And to her, that’s critical and something that impacted the event’s message.
“This is a nationwide issue. We don’t live in just our little state. We cross the border and you don’t want to have to tell your daughter when she’s going to college, that she can’t go to the University of Texas in Austin, because God forbid she gets pregnant, she’s not going to be able to have an abortion there. The implications of this are so much greater. Plus it also has an impact [depending] on who is governor. In these conservative states, you’re going to see more and more conservative governors put these rules into place. The purpose is to drive out some of the moderate Democrats or liberal Democrats who live in their state, to try to keep their state red. And that is just not okay. We must do everything that we can to protect a woman’s right to choose, regardless of what state they live in,” she added.
Boucher — “This is About the 26th”
Boucher, the Republican candidate for the State Senate 26th District seat representing Wilton, attended the event, standing just 10 feet or so directly in front of the microphone that had been set up for speakers. She was accompanied by Healy, who is the Republican candidate running for Wilton’s State Representative for the newly created 42nd District. They were the only two Republican candidates that were visible and right up at the front of the crowd.
At the end of the event, Boucher approached GOOD Morning Wilton and said she believed the event was structured primarily to get her Democratic opponent, Ceci Maher, elected rather than what it was billed for.
“I was really excited about this and I agreed with everyone that spoke. And I’ve been on the record as having voted, I have stood up and voted for these issues in a positive way,” Boucher said.
She added, “This was really about the 26th district race and everyone [else] was here to help [Maher].”
GOOD Morning Wilton offered Boucher an on-camera interview, and Boucher accepted the offer but left before the interview could be set up. Later Sunday evening, GMW emailed Boucher to reiterate a request for her comments.
Here’s how Boucher responded:
“Like me, there are many Republicans who are pro-choice and pro-women’s rights. That is why I attended the rally at Wilton Town Hall on Sunday afternoon. In fact, the Republican Lt. Governor candidate, [State] Rep. Laura Devlin, voted two weeks ago to expand and protect Connecticut pro-choice legislation. Many democrats voted against this bill and some Republicans voted for it.* In the end, it passed with support from both sides. As I have written previously, we should also respect and not demean those with deeply held personal beliefs that differ from our own.
“I agreed with the speakers on Sunday in Wilton who told their compelling personal stories, especially those expressing the concerns of the LGBTQ community who have special challenges with this issue. I know many families who have their own stories that they rarely ever disclose. But I was very disappointed that, in the end, the rally became a political event to promote the election of all Democratic candidates running for office this year, especially the one Democrat running for the State Senate 26 district. That candidate was invited to speak, but Republicans in the audience were shut out. What was to be an opportunity to express our disagreement with the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade leaked document became a highly partisan political event for only Democratic candidates running for office.”
*Editor’s note: the bill, which would expand access to abortion services in Connecticut and shield doctors and patients here from other states’ restrictive policies, was approved 87-60 by the CT State House of Representatives. The vote fell generally on party lines, but 14 Democrats vote against it, while seven Republicans supported it.
Weinstein told GMW that organizers were not contacted by any Republican asking to be added to the list of speakers making public statements in support of Roe.
“Neither Toni nor any other Republicans asked to speak. In fact, Toni did not approach me until after the event. She took issue with the fact that we allowed Ceci Maher (her opponent in the 26th State Senate District) to speak, as she is not currently an elected official. At that time, she did ask why we did not invite pro-choice Republicans to speak,” (something Weinstein explained to GMW, above).
Editor’s note: GMW has emailed Boucher to corroborate her account.
Maher, who had been asked to speak, told GMW that she was proud of events organized by her fellow Democrats, and that her fellow party members — especially those in the 26th district — “have organized or been at the forefront of rallies, getting out hundreds of supportive residents. We stand organized, we stand together, and we stand unwaveringly in our commitment to protecting a woman’s right to choose.”
She said she was grateful to all the organizers who put an event together on an “important issue… I feel passionately about.”
Maher added that “no one has been denied the right to speak out,” and that “if the Republican Party has chosen to stay silent, they too have made a choice.” She also told GMW that while she was asked to speak, she had “no authority over who was invited or who spoke.
GMW also offered Healy the opportunity to comment on camera, which she declined at the event. [Healy’s opponent, Democrat Keith Denning, did not attend the event.] After emailing a second request to Healy Sunday afternoon, GMW received the following written statement.
“After listening to the speakers today, I appreciated the bravery and candidness of the personal stories. It’s important to have these discussions and forums to hear these kinds of stories and real-life testimonies. Women’s reproductive rights is an emotional and complicated issue, and I attended today’s rally because I believe in women’s rights and our ability to make our own decisions.
“It is also important for Connecticut residents to remember that the right to an abortion was codified into Connecticut state law over 30 years ago.”
Healy said she would be “happy to do something on video” once the Supreme Court’s final decision is announced later this year. “I am hopeful that the final vote does not overturn Roe v. Wade,” she added.
Politics & Speakers
Like many speakers, Weinstein said the current embattled abortion issue represents a much larger threat to other rights, which is also rooted in politics.
“When we talk about the issue of body autonomy, that has a serious impact on trans people — will they not be able to live the life that they feel that they should be leading? It’s not my decision, it’s not your decision, it’s nobody’s decision to tell them what is their personal truth. The same thing with who a person loves, is that going to be what’s next, where we have the government intruding on who we love, making decisions as to who we can marry, who we want to be, how we want to present ourselves? And then abortion, which is a deeply personal medical choice that a woman needs to make, sacred between herself — maybe a partner, maybe not — and between a doctor, is [a decision] that she alone should have that right,” Weinstein said.
This was a theme echoed by several speakers, many of whom tied the issue to the political divide.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D), who is running for re-election, said that even though Connecticut protects reproductive choice in the state, the threat to abortion from some conservative U.S. legislators is more significant than a potential overturn of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court. He cited U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who last week said he’s open to a nationwide ban criminalizing abortion — a move that would override any CT state law.
“This fight is really a matter of life and death. You are the ones who are going to stop Mitch McConnell from becoming the next majority leader and imposing Mitch McConnell’s will on the nation. But it’s not just Mitch McConnell; we know in 23 states, bans on abortion will go into effect,” Blumenthal said. He urged supporters to take their fight to the ballot box. “Take the spirit and energy and fight that you’re showing today in states across the nation, the nation where pro-choice senators, pro-choice members of Congress are on the ballot… in states like New Hampshire and Georgia and Arizona and Nevada, and hopefully in Ohio and North Carolina and Wisconsin. If we win those seats, we can eliminate the filibuster for reproductive rights and pass the Women’s Health Protection Act.”
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz (D) also made it a campaign issue, and said abortion rights should be added to the CT State Constitution. Abortion rights as well as other rights should be a litmus test for all candidates, Bysiewicz said.
“Even though we are in this beautiful state that protects gay marriage, that protects women’s reproductive healthcare, we have to be vigilant. So when you have the opportunity to meet candidates, especially the ones that are not standing right here, you need to ask them, will you veto any bill that comes to your desk? That would cut back on our Roe v. Wade law. Because there’s a person running for governor — and it’s not [my running mate, current Gov.] Ned [Lamont] — who won’t answer that question. So we need to be very specific. We need to do our research and we need to ask candidates for state office, for federal office, exactly where they stand. Because this isn’t just about our reproductive freedom. It is about our freedom to marry who we choose, to make decisions about our life,” Bysiewicz said, adding, “So many rights are on the ballot, potentially on the chopping block.”
William Tong (D) is running for re-election as CT’s Attorney General. He said it’s important to hold candidates accountable to do “more than pay lip service” because even with recently passed state legislation supporting reproductive rights in the state, CT residents still “are not safe.”
“Any suggestion that, ‘No we’re good, Roe v. Wade has been codified, we’d just pass a new law. Don’t worry about it,’ is nonsense because Roe is not the last step. If Roe falls, that’s not the end, that’s the beginning; not just in our fight, but for the people that want to fundamentally remake our lives and turn the clock back more than 50 years, hundreds of years. They’re going to come for us and we have to defend not just our laws, but people, families, patients, women, doctors, clinics, practices, hospitals. This is going to be an all-out battle,” Tong said.
Wilton’s current state senator Will Haskell (D-26) is not running for re-election. But he echoed calls to make support for abortion rights a litmus test for candidates who are seeking to be elected.
“Unfortunately, my party has not done a good job of drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘You’re either with us or you are against us.’ We have tolerated talk of a middle ground of restrictions here and there and notification requirements. When the truth is much simpler — you either believe that the choices a pregnant person makes are made by the patient themselves, or you believe that they’re made by the government. There’s no middle ground on this,” Haskell said, adding, “We’ve got to out-organize the so-called pro-life side. We’ve got to march from here straight into the voting booth in November and after election day. More importantly, hold your elected officials accountable. Make sure that you remind them, there is no middle ground on this issue. They are either with us or against us.”
Maher was the last speaker scheduled at the event. During her brief speech, she said she had a difficult time believing the U.S. would not be “on par with other countries around the world who have already codified [abortion rights] into their constitutions.” She called abortion choice “an economic choice,” and said it was a choice to make in the voting booth.
“You need to vote into office the people who have stood up and said unified, ‘We will protect a woman’s choice and not just a woman’s choice, but LGBTQ trans voting all of the things that are on the ballot,’” Maher said.
9:45 p.m.— Editor’s note: We have updated the story to clarify and better attribute the statement about Republicans feeling that the rally was a partisan event that looked more like a campaign rally to elect Democrats rather than a gathering in support of abortion rights. That specific sentiment was expressed by Toni Boucher.