Religious Liberty Arguments for Abortion Rights

Date of Event



This panel will explore the history and recent revival of religious liberty arguments supporting abortion rights. The panel will consider this topic from legal, historical, and theological perspectives, drawing on multiple faith traditions and their approaches to gender equality, medical decision-making, sexual morality, and the question of when life begins. The panel will be conducted in a moderated question-and-answer format.


  • Rachel Kranson, University of Pittsburgh
  • Elizabeth Sepper, University of Texas at Austin
  • Toni Bond, Methodist Theological School in Ohio


  • Christine Ryan, Columbia University Law Rights & Religion Project
  • Jessie Hill, Case Western Reserve University Reproductive Rights Law Initiative

Speaker Bios

Rachel Kranson is the Director of Jewish studies and Associate Professor of Religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Her work focuses on the history of American Jewish gender, sexuality, and class in the latter half of the twentieth century. Kranson's co-edited volume, “A Jewish Feminine Mystique: Jewish Women in Postwar America” (Rutgers University Press, 2010) was a National Jewish Book Award Finalist in Women’s Studies and her monograph “Ambivalent Embrace: Jewish Upward Mobility in Postwar America” (University of North Carolina Press, 2017) received an Honorable Mention for the Best First Book Award of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society. Her current research traces the history of American Jewish engagement in the debates over abortion.

In the Spring 2024 semester, she is serving as a scholar-in-residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute. At HBI, Kranson will be completing her final chapters of “Religious Misconceptions: American Jews and the Politics of Abortion.” Drawing on the archival collections of liberal and feminist Jewish organizations from the 1970s through the turn of the 21st century, this study tells the story of the American Jewish lawyers, activists, clergy, and communal leaders who articulated distinctly religious reasons for supporting abortion access in the decades following Roe v. Wade. These Jewish leaders resisted the notion that all religious Americans shared a conservative Christian antipathy to reproductive rights, and challenged those who presented an opposition to abortion as a “Judeo-Christian” value. In the process, they developed new paradigms for how American Jews would engage in public policy and transformed the rituals and rhetoric of liberal American Judaism. This volume therefore asks: how did liberal American Jews influence abortion politics, and how did reproductive politics change liberal American Judaism?

Elizabeth Sepper is a nationally recognized scholar of religious liberty, health law, and equality. She has written extensively on conscientious refusals to provide reproductive and end-of-life healthcare and on conflicts over religion and insurance coverage. Her recent work focuses on legal theoretical and policy debates related to the antidiscrimination obligations of public accommodations—that is, businesses, social service providers, and membership organizations that are open to the public—under federal, state, and local laws. Sepper’s articles appear in top journals, including the Yale Law Journal, Columbia Law Review, Virginia Law Review, Northwestern University Law Review, and Harvard Journal of Gender & Law. Her article, Doctoring Discrimination in the Same-Sex Marriage Debates, on the issue of religious objections to gay rights won multiple awards, including the 2014 Dukeminier Award for best sexuality law scholarship. She is the editor of Law, Religion, and Health in the United States (Holly Fernandez Lynch, I. Glenn Cohen, & Elizabeth Sepper, eds. Cambridge Univ. 2017).

Sepper received her B.A. in History magna cum laude with distinction from Boston University. She received her LL.M. and J.D. magna cum laude from New York University School of Law, where she served as an notes editor of New York University Law Review. Following law school, she clerked for the Hon. Marjorie Rendell of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, practiced human rights law with a focus on women’s rights, and was a Center for Reproductive Rights fellow at Columbia Law School. Prior to joining the Texas faculty, she was a professor at Washington University School of Law. During 2018-19, she held the LAPA\Crane Fellowship in the Law and Public Affairs Program at Princeton University to work on a project entitled Sex in Public, which explores the history of sex discrimination in public accommodations.

Toni M. Bond has been a social justice activist for over 30 years. She has worked specifically to elevate the voices of Black women around issues of reproductive and sexual health, rights, and justice. In 1994, Bond was one of the twelve Black women who gave birth to the concept of “Reproductive Justice,” creating a paradigm shift in how women of color would add their collective voices to the fight for reproductive autonomy and freedom. In 1994, Bond was the first black woman appointed to serve as the executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, one of the oldest abortion funds in the Midwest. In 1996, she co-founded and led the first Black women’s reproductive and sexual justice organization in the country, Black Women for Reproductive Justice.

Bond is a recognized leader and expert on working at the intersections of religion and reproductive justice. A womanist theo-ethicist, her areas of specialization include gender and sexuality, reproductive health, rights, and justice, Black feminist theory and methodology, womanist theory and methodology, and womanist and Christian ethics. Her scholarly foci are reproductive justice and women of color, religion, faith, and reproductive justice, and womanist theo-ethics and reproductive justice. Publications include “A Womanist Theo-Ethic of Reproductive Justice,” in T&T Clark Reader in Abortion and Religion: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives, eds. Rebecca Todd Peters and Margaret D. Kamitsuka, (New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2022); “Laying the Foundations for a Reproductive Justice Movement,” in Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundation, Theory, Practice, Critique, eds. Loretta J. Ross, Lynn Roberts, Erika Derkas, Whitney Peoples, and Pamela Bridgewater Toure (New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2017); Review of Rebecca Todd Peters, Trust Women: The Moral Wisdom of Women from Justification to Reproductive Justice, Syndicate Theology; “Aretha’s Funeral and the White Supremacist Imagination,” Sept. 7, 2018, Rewire.News; and “Cherry-Picking the Bible to Mistreat the Stranger: Religion on Family Separation,” June 20, 2018, Rewire.News.

Bond received her B.A. from DePaul University with a focus in Women & Gender Studies. She completed her M.A. in Theology/Ethics at Claremont School of Theology (CST), receiving their University Scholars Award, a fully funded scholarship. She completed her Ph.D. in Religion, Ethics, and Society at CST.

Moderator Biographies

Christine Ryan is the Associate Director of Religion and Reproductive Rights at Columbia Law School’s Law, Rights, and Religion Project (LRRP). Christine provides academic analysis, technical support, and thought leadership to advance equality-enhancing approaches to religious liberty. In the post-Dobbs era, she is mainly focused on legal strategies relating to religious liberty, abortion access, and pregnancy criminalization.

Christine joined LRRP from the Global Justice Center (GJC), a women's rights non-profit in New York, where she served as Legal Director. Among other projects at GJC, Christine led a campaign for a new UN treaty on Crimes against Humanity, large-scale reporting on the human rights impacts of U.S. abortion restrictions, and strategies to advance gender justice in the context of atrocity crimes. Prior to that, she served as Senior Legal Advisor to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, where she completed human rights investigations in 8 counties and led a global study on the misuse of the right to freedom of religion or belief. Christine began her legal career as a human rights advisor to the Irish Government.

A scholar of gender, human and constitutional rights, Christine completed her doctorate in law at Duke University School of Law as a Fulbright Scholar. She holds an LLM from University College London and a Bachelor of Laws and Irish from University College Cork.

Jessie Hill, JD (she/her), is the Director of the Reproductive Rights Law Initiative, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development, and Judge Ben C. Green Professor of Law. Hill has been writing about and advocating for reproductive rights for over two decades. Hill and the team are currently litigating numerous challenges to abortion restrictions in Ohio, including seeking to protect abortion access in Ohio post-Dobbs through ongoing litigation challenging Ohio's ban on abortion after 6 weeks of pregnancy. She currently serves on the board of the National Abortion Federation Hotline Fund and has been invited to speak on reproductive rights law to various national groups, including the National Abortion Federation, the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine, and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Hill joined the CWRU faculty in 2003 after practicing First Amendment and civil rights law with the firm of Berkman, Gordon, Murray & DeVan in Cleveland. Before entering private practice, Hill worked at the Reproductive Freedom Project of the national ACLU office in New York, litigating challenges to state-law restrictions on reproductive rights. She also served as law clerk to the Honorable Karen Nelson Moore of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. She received her JD, magna cum laude, from Harvard University and her AB, magna cum laude, from Brown University. Her articles have been published in the Michigan Law Review, Duke Law Journal, Georgetown Law Journal and Texas Law Review, among others. She has also appeared in numerous local and national press outlets, including CNN, the New York Times, Ms. Magazine and NPR.

Subject Headings

abortion rights; reproductive rights


CWRU School of Law Moot Courtroom (A59)

Document Type