ANALYSIS | Abortion Politics Heat Up August Legislative Primaries

Susan Bigelow

It’s only one month until the August primary, a date I’m sure you all have circled on your calendars. Yes, there really is nothing like a primary election in early August, when it’s way too hot out and everyone is on vacation. These low-turnout contests have the potential to swing in surprising directions, so over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at some of the primaries going on here in Connecticut at the state and federal levels.

This week: legislative primaries. There are 10 primaries happening for seats in either the state House of Representatives or the Senate this year, all turning on different issues. But following the US Supreme Court decision to reverse Roe v. Wade, abortion has become a factor in two of these races. Let’s take a look at them.

West Haven

The most high-profile primary this year is happening in West Haven, where Democratic Rep. Treneé McGee, 27, is facing a challenge from IT professional and West Haven resident Joe Miller, 24. McGee won her seat in a 2021 special election following the resignation of Michael DiMassa, a Democrat who was charged with stealing federal COVID-19 relief funds. But McGee but soon made her mark with an impassioned speech against a bill expanding abortion rights on the floor of the House.

McGee, who is Black, spoke about the impact of abortion on communities of color, stating that young Black girls learn about abortion as a method of birth control, that most abortion clinics are located in Black and brown neighborhoods, and that the rates of abortion for Black women were much higher than for their white counterparts who had better access to contraception. Her speech, which drew heavily on her own experiences, won praise and support from members of the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican caucus. Ten members of that caucus voted against the bill, including McGee.

Miller is a white pro-choice Democrat who decided to run against McGee after hearing her speech. He accused McGee of “demonizing” Planned Parenthood and “invoking eugenics,” and said she was out of step with her constituents. McGee blasted him right back, saying that “He, as a white man, can’t ever give voice to what it means to be a woman and a Black woman,” which was, she says, what her speech was about.

There’s so much to unpack here, and I know, as a garden-variety white woman, that I’m not the right person to speak about how relatively easy access to abortion, lack of access to contraceptives, and racism combine to hurt communities of color. If you listen to McGee’s speech, and read a counter-opinion from a Black abortion provider, it’s possible to see how both easy access and a lack of access to abortion can be devastating, but again, I don’t know to what extent that’s the case. There’s a lot more out there to read and understand about this issue, and I’ll be doing my research on it.

Maybe it’s enough, for now, to say that in America, nothing is ever simple, and everything is weighed down with generations of pain, blood, and oppression. 

What will West Haven decide? Abortion politics are tricky, and the Democrats willing to turn out for an August primary may want to send a message that pro-lifers have no place in the party. Still, the Democratic Town Committee was happy enough with McGee to endorse her for a full term. And whether you agree with her, you have to admit that she is gutsy, passionate, and willing to stand up for what she believes in no matter the cost. I find myself hoping the Democratic Party’s tent is big enough for her after all.


Another race where Roe could end up being a factor is happening in Simsbury’s 16th House District, where former first selectman Eric Wellman is facing Melissa Osborne in a race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. John Hampton. Wellman, who is very popular in town, easily won his party’s endorsement at the district convention. But Osborne, who has been a candidate for state senate in the past, was moved to run by the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe. Rep. Hampton was one of the Democrats who voted against a recent abortion bill, which does bring the issue into the campaign a little more.

Osborne has been endorsed by two former first selectwomen of Simsbury: Anita Mielert and Mary Glassman. Interestingly, she’s also been endorsed by Hampton. It’s safe to say that outrage over reproductive rights will play well in white, wealthy, well-educated Simsbury, so I could absolutely see Osborne taking this one on that single issue alone. 

Abortion rights are shaping up to be a big factor in turnout for Democrats this fall. What happens in Simsbury and West Haven, two very different places with incredibly different contests, could foreshadow just how that might play out. 

Next week: I’ll take a look at some of the other legislative primaries out there!

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