Hundreds of people protested outside the federal courthouse and marched in downtown New Haven to advocate for abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Yehyun Kim /

As nearly two dozen state legislatures across the country have moved to restrict or ban abortion access since the overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer, Connecticut’s largest abortion provider has seen a 56% increase in people traveling from many of those places for care.  

But while the percentage of people coming from out of state has skyrocketed — namely from southern states like Tennessee and Texas — the wait times for those seeking abortions are “definitely better,” according to Nancy Stanwood, the chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, who added that people of color and people with low income account for many of the individuals pursuing care.  

A year ago, waiting periods stretched as long as two weeks. 

“One year in, we knew that there would be continued work to try and reclaim the right and to reassert individuals’ bodily autonomy so that we can do better than what we had under Roe,” Stanwood said. “It’s about making space where everybody, regardless of where they live, who they love, their race, their ethnicity, their income, their address, they can make decisions for themselves about their bodies and pregnancy without interference from judges, politicians, government, nosy neighbors.” 

Stanwood’s insights come as Connecticut grapples with the reality that abortion isn’t protected federally as it was for nearly half a century.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority shook the nation last summer when it ruled, via Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that the Constitution does not preserve an individual’s right to an abortion. 

The 6-3 decision, viewed by many as a stunning revocation of settled law, ignited demonstrations across the country and triggered a spate of laws that placed guardrails around abortion access in some of the nation’s most populous states. 

Officials in Connecticut, where abortions have been safeguarded in state law since 1990, used the decision as an opportunity to strengthen protections for people seeking abortion care from anywhere in the country.

In anticipation of the Dobbs ruling last year, the legislature passed a sweeping bill expanding the number of health care providers who could perform first-trimester abortions, a change that Stanwood credited with helping reduce waiting periods for patients. The newly authorized providers include nurse midwives, physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses.

The bill also established legal protections for people traveling from out of state to get an abortion and for clinicians who help provide them.

[RELATED: CT is now a ‘safe harbor’ for abortion seekers. What does that mean?]

Just this year, lawmakers advanced a bill ensuring that health care providers facing discipline in other states for performing abortions cannot be denied a medical license in Connecticut, approved a measure allowing for the sale of non-prescription drugs in vending machines, including emergency contraception, and blocked Gov. Ned Lamont’s judge nomination of an attorney who previously endorsed Amy Coney Barrett — one of the six Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe.

And last week, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong appointed two attorneys in his division to represent the state in cases on and develop policy agendas related to reproductive rights. 

The victories for pro-abortion advocates have come from anticipating what protections adversaries in other states might attempt to undermine next, said Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, a champion of the measures expanding reproductive rights. 

“It has been just kind of taking in the landscape across the country and being able to pass policies that protect us here in our state,” said Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, the House chair of the Human Services Committee. “I want to ensure that we pass as many proactive policies that expand access to reproductive health care, that make sure people have all the options they need, because you never know what the federal government’s going to do and how that’s going to now impact states.” 

Democratic lawmakers have also blocked the advancement of bills that would have required minors to notify their parents before having an abortion, a priority measure for anti-abortion advocates in the state. The so-called parental rights legislation in Connecticut stands in line with a decades-old effort to exert more control over matters ranging from education to gender identity and sexuality to health care. The movement has often been criticized for prioritizing the wishes of white, conservative and Christian parents and officials.

In a poll conducted ahead of the 2022 midterm election, an overwhelming majority of Connecticut residents favored keeping abortion legal. Certain exceptions, like parental notification, weren’t polled. State law requires counseling for minors seeking an abortion, including a suggestion that they consult with a parent or family member. Nationally, most Americans support abortion, while 56% “say abortion providers should be required to get the consent of a parent or guardian before performing an abortion on a minor,” according to Pew Research Center

Thirty-six states require some form of parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. However, some Connecticut officials and advocates feel that the proposed legislation doesn’t account for the fact that people’s relationships with their families differ.

Some anti-abortion groups have placed passage of the parental notification legislation at the top of their priority list in the coming years, something they also recognize as a tall order in a state with a Democratic supermajority in the General Assembly and a Democrat in the Governor’s Residence. 

“I think the last year has been fantastic. I never expected the immediate aftermath of the overturning of Roe v. Wade to be a picnic,” said Peter Wolfgang, president of the Family Institute of Connecticut Action. “I think we always knew that it would be an uphill battle, that overturning Roe would not be the end of the battle but the beginning of the next stage of the battle. So no one should be surprised that we had setbacks in the political arena in the first year.” 

At the top of mind of at least one anti-abortion legislator, Rep. Treneé McGee, are Connecticut’s staggering inequalities in access to health care and other services. A recent study from the Department of Public Health, to use one example, revealed that Black and Latino people comprised 64% of the documented pregnancy-related deaths. 

The West Haven Democrat feels that the state has fallen woefully short — through health care, housing and education, among other areas — in making the task of raising a child less strenuous for people in historically underserved communities. 

“My stance is … it’s the life of the mother first. It’s the woman first and the being that she’s carrying second. And so that’s kind of sometimes where I disagree with some of the positioning of the” anti-abortion movement, said McGee, a Black woman who has argued at the State Capitol that Black communities in particular have far more pressing needs than expanded access to abortion. 

“To me, it is empowering, and encouraging, and lifting up, and legislatively supporting a woman first. And if you do that, then you are supporting the family,” she said. “I hope that we kind of move a little bit away from abortion and we start to talk about other things around this conversation that’s important.”

But some pro-abortion advocates see the recent advancements around access in Connecticut as only a starting point. 

One of the most critical next steps, they say, is investing in an infrastructure where providers have the funding and capacity to support abortion access for people both in and out of state, a task that now falls upon the shoulders of philanthropy. A recent legislative proposal for the state to provide financial assistance to some people seeking abortions from out of state did not make it out of committee.

“It should not be the sole responsibility of private donors and nonprofit independent abortion funds to help people afford this care,” said Liz Gustafson, the state director of Pro-Choice Connecticut. 

Alyce Coleman, a board member with the REACH Fund of Connecticut, a nonprofit organization financially backing abortion care, agrees. Her organization has supported around 90 abortions since launching in 2021. 

“We had a chance during this legislative session to put our money where our mouth is as far as being a blue state, being a state that supports the birth of progressive causes, that supports people’s rights,” Coleman said. “We dropped the ball a little bit when it comes to actual dollars going to support patients.” 

Claudine Constant, public policy and advocacy director with the ACLU of Connecticut, said the state often moves forward on paper, but when it comes to investing in the needs of communities of color, the same progress doesn’t occur. 

Earlier this year, the state declined to expand Medicaid to people 25 and younger, regardless of their immigration status. It didn’t seize an opportunity to implement universal free school lunches. It also put a stop to free bus fares. To some, those kinds of protections are imperative, given the status of abortion access nationally and the fact that some people may one day have no other choice but to carry out a pregnancy and raise children — and therefore rely on those services.

“That’s why I like relating abortion care back to reproductive care, back to health care, back to it being a human right. All of those things are all interconnected,” Constant said. “We have to talk about the numerous identities that a person brings to the table, not just whether or not they’re able to get pregnant, but their race, their class, where they live, whether or not they have a car, all of those different things impact the person’s ability to be able to raise a family or choose to have a family if they don’t have money.”

Stanwood, who holds a deep appreciation for where Connecticut has moved in protecting the right to bodily autonomy, also sees a need for officials to look at abortion through a more comprehensive lens. 

“If you can’t get to your appointment, then it doesn’t matter if you have the right to an abortion. If you don’t have insurance to pay for it, it doesn’t matter if you have the right to an abortion in Connecticut,” Stanwood said. “And it gets to that point of access and that you just need to think about who is the person who has the least resources. And if we can build a system that makes it possible for them to easily access care in a timely manner, then we’ve made it better for everybody.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Peter Wolfgang’s organization. It is the Family Institute of Connecticut Action, not the Family Institute of Connection Action.

Jaden is CT Mirror's justice reporter. He was previously a summer reporting fellow at The Texas Tribune and interned at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. He received a bachelor's degree in electronic media from Texas State University and a master's degree in investigative journalism from the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University.