This paper was originally submitted to Prof. David N. Hempton in order to complete the course, “Secularization in Europe & the United States c. 1780-2000,” which was offered in the spring semester, 2010.

The full title is: The Sexual Revolution and the Rise of the Religious Right: How the Secularization of Sexuality Spurred Conservative Religious Mobilization.

Due to the length of the paper, I will be posting it in sections.


Before Roe v. Wade, abortion was not an essential issue among American religious believers, in large part because it had been illegal for the duration of the United States’ existence. The separation of Christian morality from American public life that occurred throughout the 1960s and 70s led to the rise of the Religious Right. Without the “cultural trends of secularization and liberalization” the Religious Right would have had nothing against which to fight1.

Abortion itself was not the hot button issue among American Christians even before Roe v. Wade legalized first trimester abortions. In fact, a number of denominations now associated with conservative Christianity originally supported abortion rights and access to contraception. In 1973 the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention stated: I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from it’s mother that it becomes an individual person […] and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed2. By 1984, the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelical denominations had done a complete turnaround, arguing that life begins at conception, and abortion constituted murder of a human life.

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1. Matthew D. Lassiter, “Inventing Family Values,” in Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s, ed. Bruce J. Schulman and Julian E. Zelizer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 2008) p. 27.

2. Randall Balmer, The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press 2010) p. 61-2.