Planned Parenthood of Southern New England got its start when Katharine Hepburn's mother, Mrs. Thomas N. Hepburn, and two of her friends, Mrs. George Day, Mr. and Mrs. M. Toscan Bennett, met with Margaret Sanger when she came to Connecticut to address supporters and the merely curious at the Parson's Theater in Hartford. After hearing her speak, the three friends formed the Connecticut Birth Control League. The year was 1923.
The use of birth control, the dissemination of information about birth control, and the dispensing of birth control supplies were illegal in Connecticut at the time. The controlling law was known as the Comstock Law, after Anthony Comstock, who had succeeded in getting similar laws passed throughout the country in the 1870s.
Despite the efforts of the original trio and their growing numbers of allies, the Connecticut legislature refused to change the Comstock Law on nine different occasions between 1923 and 1931.
In spite of the law, the Birth Control league established Connecticut's first birth control center in Hartford in 1935, with Dr. Hilda Standish as its medical director. Before the end of the decade the League opened additional clinics in New Haven, Stamford, Danbury, Westport, New Britain, Greenwich, Norwalk, Bridgeport, and Waterbury.
Distinguished clergy and physicians were outspoken in support of birth control. In 1935, Reverend George R. Andrews, addressing the Hartford Birth Control League, urged his listeners to "change the law if we can, but if not, then let us ignore it. The law is violated daily and the men and women of greatest intelligence and character are the chief violators. To them human welfare is more important than obedience to such obnoxious laws."
Six months after it opened, police raided the Waterbury clinic. Two doctors and a nurse were arrested and their contraceptive supplies were confiscated. In the court case that followed, attorneys for the clinic contended the Comstock Law was unconstitutional. In March, 1940, however, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the law.
The Connecticut Committee to make Birth Control legal joined the fight. Horace D. Taft, brother of President Taft and Headmaster of the Taft School, was the general chairman of the organization.
Many of those who had been active in the League became part of a mostly female "underground" to get themselves and others to the birth control clinic in Portchester, New York. The League continued to litigate against the Comstock Law, but without success. It appeared that a direct challenge would be necessary.
With a test case in mind, the League opened a clinic at the corner of Whitney Avenue and Trumbull Street in New Haven in 1961. C. Lee Buxton, Chairman of the Yale University Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, was the medical director. In November, 1961 Dr. Buxton and Estelle Griswold, the Executive Director of the League were arrested.
Fowler Harper, Catherine Roraback and Professor Thomas Emerson of the Yale Law School handled the case. On December 7, 1964 the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Griswold vs. Connecticut. The hearings took place on March 29 and 30th of 1965. Finally, on June 7, 1965, the decision was handed down. The right to privacy, always inherent in our Constitution, was officially recognized by the Supreme Court!
In 1973 these privacy rights formed the basis of the Court's decision in Roe vs. Wade, legalizing abortion nationwide and defining it as a "fundamental right" of American women.
In 1965, the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut was serving approximately 300 women. In the early 1970's money for Family Planning became available under Title X of the Public Health Act and Title XX of the Social Security Act. Beginning in 1980 the Reagan and later the Bush administration worked to restrict Title X by imposing a gag rule on clinic staff. Upheld in 1991 by the Supreme Court in Rust v. Sullivan, the gag rule prevented staff in federally funded clinics from telling patients about all options for managing a pregnancy, including abortion. PPC resolved not to accept federal funds with those restrictions.
With the election of President Clinton in 1992 the gag rule was overturned administratively for the duration of his term. Upon assuming office in 2001, President George W. Bush reinstated the global version of the gag rule (imposed on recipients of U.S. foreign aid).
In 2009, Planned Parenthood of Connecticut and Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island merged, combining their operations to become Planned Parenthood of Southern New England (PPSNE).
PPSNE continues to work on the state and federal level to ensure access to reproductive healthcare for everyone and fights continual attacks to abortion.