About the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project

Document Date: January 22, 1997


The American Civil Liberties Union is the nation’s foremost advocate of individual rights — conducting litigation and public education on a broad range of issues affecting individual freedom. It has a membership of more than 275,000 and is both non-profit and non-partisan.

Since its inception, the ACLU has recognized that personal privacy and reproductive rights are among our most important constitutional liberties. In the 1920s, we successfully appealed the obscenity conviction of one of our founders, sex educator Mary Ware Dennett. In the 1940s, we opposed bans on the sale and use of birth control devices and information. Since the mid-1960s, we have been pioneering legal advocates for the right to contraception, the right to abortion, and the right to bear a child.


Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, the Project seeks to uphold the rights of individuals to decide freely, without governmental hindrance or coercion, whether or not to bear a child. We strive to ensure that all in our society have access to sexuality education, contraception, abortion, prenatal care, and childbearing assistance.

In these efforts, the Project draws support from and provides assistance to:

  • 53 ACLU affiliate offices and many more local chapters. The ACLU is the only legal organization working for reproductive rights with representation in every state in the country.
  • national ACLU offices in New York and Washington, D.C.

The Right to Birth Control

1929 – The ACLU defended Margaret Sanger’s right to inform the public about birth control.

1965 – The ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Griswold v. Connecticut, the first case to strike down a state prohibition against the prescription, sale, or use of contraceptives, even for married couples.

The Right to Bear a Child

1977 – The ACLU successfully litigated Walker v. Pierce, a case that led to the development of new federal regulations to prevent Medicaid recipients from being sterilized without their informed consent.

1980 – The Project filed Poe v. Lynchburg Training School on behalf of 8,000 women involuntarily sterilized by a state mental institution in Virginia. In a settlement reached in 1985, the state agreed to inform the women about what had been done to them and to help them get counseling and medical treatment.

The Right to Abortion

1971 – The ACLU argued United States v. Vuitch, the first abortion case to reach the United States Supreme Court.

We also participated in the 1973 landmark case, Roe v. Wade, and argued Roe’s companion case, Doe v. Bolton.

1981-96 – The Project and ACLU affiliates successfully challenged state restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortion in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Connecticut, Vermont, Alaska, Idaho, Illinois, and New Mexico.

1992 – The Project litigated Planned Parenthood v. Casey, persuading a majority of the United States Supreme Court to reaffirm the core right to privacy first established in Roe v. Wade.

1994 – The Project advised members of Congress in drafting the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, providing legal redress for individuals subjected to threats, violence, or blockades because of their attempts to obtain or provide abortions. The Project continues to defend the Act against legal challenges to its constitutionality.

The Rights of Minors

1981-90 – The Project litigated Hodgson v. Minnesota through the lower courts and in the United States Supreme Court and secured for teenagers the option of going to court when they could not or would not comply with a state law requiring them to notify their parents of their intention to have an abortion.

1990s – The Project provided legal counsel and resource kits to people across the nation combatting attacks on comprehensive sexuality and AIDS education in public schools.

1995 – The Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Curtis v. School Committee of Falmouth, the nation’s first case upholding a condom availability program in the public schools.

New Initiatives

Through advocacy and litigation, the Project is working to:

  • reverse the shortage of trained abortion providers throughout the country
  • block state and federal welfare “reform” proposals that cut off benefits for children who are born to women already receiving welfare, unmarried women, or teenagers
  • stop the elimination of vital reproductive health services as a result of hospital mergers and health care networks


The landmark cases of the 1960s and ’70s established reproductive freedom as a fundamental constitutional right grounded in the privacy protections of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.

After the watershed victories leading up to and including Roe v. Wade, we confronted an anti-choice backlash that persists to this day. While we were optimistic with the inauguration of a pro-choice administration in 1993, the 1994 elections sent to Congress a legion of anti-choice legislators who every day find new ways to interject the government into what should be personal decisions about childbearing.

Since 1974 and throughout this backlash, the Reproductive Freedom Project has consistently fought to further the ACLU’s longstanding commitment to privacy rights and women’s equality by coordinating the nation’s most extensive program of litigation, advocacy, and public education on behalf of reproductive freedom.

Continued vigilance by the Project — and the individuals who support it — is crucial if past gains are to be maintained and if we are to advance our struggle to guarantee reproductive freedom.


The ACLU accepts no government support and depends entirely on private contributions from individuals and a small number of foundations. Everything the Reproductive Freedom Project is able to do depends on your willingness to support us.

Because of its strong national presence as well as its nationwide affiliate network, the ACLU is well positioned to uphold reproductive freedom wherever our expertise is needed. Your contributions support both national and local work. Earmarked contributions given through the ACLU Foundation are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Assistance is also available in planning future gifts that provide special tax and financial benefits.

Reproductive Freedom Project
American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street
New York, NY 10004-2400
Jennifer Dalven, Director

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