Making Choice Sacred: Liberal Religion and Reproductive Rights in the United States, 1965-1980

“… my project -- Making Choice Sacred -- offers the first transnational history of liberal religion’s influence on the reproductive rights revolution. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Gillian Avrum Frank Center for the Study of Religion Contact Me

About this project grant for researchers

“I’ve been waiting nearly fifty years to tell my story,” explained James Dick when I interviewed him in 2015. An American Baptist minister, Dick counseled hundreds of Wisconsin women with “problem pregnancies” and broke the law by helping many of them secure abortions before Roe v Wade. At age 90, he is emphatic that this reproductive rights activism shaped his entire ministry.

Reverend Dick was one of many clergy who participated in the single largest abortion referral service in the United States before Roe v Wade, the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS). As such, his activism is part of a broader story of a religious organization that reshaped the politics of abortion globally.

Making Choice Sacred explores the crucial role of liberal religious activists in shaping the legal, medical and transnational histories of abortion services. The project focuses on the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion. Made up of liberal Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis and dissident Catholic nuns and priests, the CCS organized in three countries to lobby for the repeal of abortion laws, challenge anti-abortion activists and assist women obtain safe abortions. Despite facing arrest and prosecution, the CCS created a domestic and international medical referral network that shepherded hundreds of thousands of women to reliable abortionists within the United States and to providers in Canada, England, Mexico, Japan and Puerto Rico. By 1970, with the repeal of abortion laws in several states, CCS members established their own abortion clinics and pushed the organization into new forms of medical activism that would continue beyond the Roe v Wade decision. Using oral histories, newly available archival sources and private collections, this project reframes historical understandings of sexual mores, religious activism, medical practice and reproductive rights in the postwar period.