Catholics for Choice (previously Catholics for a Free Choice) was founded in 1973, the same year that the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade. A group of ordinary Catholics just like you were tired of pro-choice Catholic voices being silenced in conversations about sexual and reproductive health. Our movement was born out of bold, smart, ambitious Catholics who struggled to reconcile their faith with church teachings that harmed women.
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Catholics for Choice Through the Years
Click on our timeline to learn more about what CFC has accomplished over the years!
On the one-year anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling, CFC staff, supporters, and advocates crowned CFC co-founder Patricia Fogerty McQuillan “Her Holiness Pope Patricia the First.” They held the ceremony on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City to challenge the Vatican’s positions on gender, reproductive healthcare, and abortion rights. This daring act of bravery kicked off the formal Catholic pro-choice movement. Founders McQuillan, Joan Harriman, and Meta Mulcahy were joined by visionaries like Rosemary Radford Ruether and Father Joseph O’Rourke, who shone a light on Catholic teachings on moral decision-making — what Catholics refer to as freedom of conscience.
Under the leadership of then-president Frances Kissling, CFC ran an ad in The New York Times titled “A Catholic Statement on Pluralism and Abortion.” The letter, written by Catholics for Choice and co-signed by nearly 100 leading Catholic theologians, priests, and men and women religious, called for dialogue on the plurality of opinions on abortion among Catholics, for an end to punishments for public dissenters, and for Catholics to oppose legislation that obstructed reproductive freedom.
In response, the Vatican demanded that the signatories who belonged to religious communities recant or face dismissal from their orders. Two brothers and a priest recanted. The women religious who signed the letter, later known as the Vatican 24, waged a multiyear campaign defending their position. In 1986, more than 1,000 Catholics signed “A Declaration of Solidarity” in support of those whom the Vatican attacked for signing the 1984 statement.
CFC became an NGO designated by the United Nations and began working with other pro-choice NGOs and nations to combat the influence of the Vatican and Pope John Paul II at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt.
CFC urged the Clinton administration to include abortion in every basic healthcare benefits package, though Clinton’s proposal was eventually defeated by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ lobbying efforts on behalf of Catholic hospitals. The same year, CFC published its first report on the size and scope of Catholic healthcare and its impact on patients.
In the wake of the Cairo conference and challenges from the Bush administration, CFC and 450 other NGOs coordinated the “See Change” campaign, which called for changing the Vatican’s status at the UN from “non-member state permanent observer” to NGO. In 2000, CFC and reproductive rights advocates from around the world sailed up the East River in New York with a See Change banner on the sail, directly in view of delegates attending the Beijing Conference on Women review.
In 2004, CFC and then CFC President Frances Kissling joined the March for Women’s Lives, which drew over 1 million women to the Capitol in support of reproductive rights. This is one of the largest pro-choice demonstrations in U.S. history.
In January 2022, on the eve of the so-called “March for Life” in Washington, D.C., Catholics for Choice organized a light projection on the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception — the largest Catholic church in the U.S. They projected messages like “1 in 4 abortion patients is Catholic,” “Stop Stigmatizing. Start Listening,” and “Pro-Choice Catholics, You Are Not Alone” while anti-choice marchers prayed inside. While the projection attracted critics’ attention, our inboxes flooded with messages of love and solidarity from fellow pro-choice Catholics.
This same year, Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey is overturned. Catholics for Choice was ready on the steps of the Supreme Court in May when a draft decision by Justice Alito was leaked, and again in June when the decision was formally overturned.
Today, CFC continues to transform under its visionary president Jamie L. Manson, who has spent her career as a thought leader and advocate for issues of equality and reproductive rights in the Catholic church and public sphere.