|Photo by Karen Swartz|
The turnout far exceeded the expectations of Russell Library or Senator Suzio and his staff. When it was clear that the Hubbard room would not hold the crowd, Suzio held court in the larger periodicals reading room, with the floor area as well as the walkway above packed with well over 150 city residents.
Suzio spoke briefly about the state's $1.5B deficit for the next fiscal year. He blamed it on state worker pensions, and called the state finances, "not bad but catastrophic." He went on to talk proudly of his efforts to prevent any studies about a mileage tax, and his efforts to increase state spending on prisons.
Suzio took questions from the audience for about an hour. Almost all of the questions revolved around Suzio's support of new laws that would restrict access to abortion in Connecticut. Many of them were from young women who wondered why men like Suzio would presume to legislate women's reproductive decisions.
Elise Springer asked Suzio a direct question about the broader issue of government control over women's reproductive choices.
Can you affirm that you generally ... support, people’s autonomy over their own bodies, including what happens in a person’s uterus? That is, apart from constraints here and there, such as your bill about parental notification, do you basically support choice?He did not answer her question.
The gathering revealed a great divide between Suzio's beliefs and those of nearly everyone else in the room. This was perhaps best encapsulated in the crowd's response to Suzio's justification for mandating parental notification before a minor can have an abortion.
Suzio. I want an adult, who has their best interest at heart, and I don't want someone who is involved in actually performing the procedure, to be that person. I don't think they're necessarily neutral in that situation. You want someone to look and say, 'given this child's situation, here's the best way to handle that.' That to me is actually the most open approach to the whole thing. I'm not dictating that this young child has an abortion or doesn't have an abortion, I want a process to make certain that that child gets the best possible adult input into her situation and if it's not her parents, and probably everybody in this room can agree that in the ideal world it would be the parent, right?
Chorus of residents. NO! NO! NO!
Suzio (incredulously). In the ideal world??!!??
Chorus of voices. NO! NO! NO! It should be the person.
Suzio (incredulously). Yeah, but a 13 or 14 year old???!!???
Chorus of voices. YES! YES! YES! It's not 1950.
Suzio (stunned). Hold on, hold on. Look, I'm happy to discuss this issue, and let's have a dialogue. But we all know... Look, today in the state capitol there was a hearing in the sentencing commission and they were talking about young men who have been incarcerated committing terrible crimes. And they were focused on very young people, talking about 17, 18, 19, 20 years old. And their argument was that we should treat them differently, that we should treat them as juveniles, ... because their brains haven't been fully formed, they're not capable of making the kind of decisions, a mature decision a fully formed adult would do.
Resident. Are you saying having an abortion is a crime?Video of the first part of the town hall is available on Facebook, the above exchange starts at the 10:40 mark.