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Devotions and DesiresHistories of Sexuality and Religion in the Twentieth-Century United States$
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Gillian Frank, Bethany Moreton, and Heather R. White

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469636269

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469636269.001.0001

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From Women’s Rights to Religious Freedom

From Women’s Rights to Religious Freedom

The Women’s League for Conservative Judaism and the Politics of Abortion, 1970–1982

Chapter:
(p.170) From Women’s Rights to Religious Freedom
Source:
Devotions and Desires
Author(s):

Rachel Kranson

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/northcarolina/9781469636269.003.0010

This essay traces the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism’s engagement in the issue of reproductive rights during the 1970s and early 1980s. Members of the Women’s League first championed legal abortion in 1970, defending their position through expressly feminist arguments supporting women’s reproductive autonomy. While they never backed down from their endorsement of legal abortion, the political shifts of the late 1970s and early 1980s compelled them to develop a new language through which to discuss the issue. Reframing access to abortion as a matter of religious freedom offered Women’s League members a way to articulate their support for the procedure without publicly endorsing the principle of women’s reproductive autonomy, an idea that had become increasingly controversial over the course of the 1970s. As much of the American public began to view a particularly right-wing, Christian opposition to abortion as a universal religious principle, the leaders of the Women’s League struggled to show that their backing of legal abortion did not conflict with their religious commitments. Framing access to abortion as a religious right enabled them to present their stance on abortion as a component of their spiritual worldview rather than as a capitulation to secular, feminist ideals.

Keywords:   Abortion, Judaism, Fundamentalism, Conservative Judaism, Conservatism, religious right, 1970s, 1980s, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, Feminism

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