1991 April 23

Harriet Pilpel Dies; Civil Libertarian, Reproductive Rights Pioneer


Harriet Pilpel was a pioneering lawyer on reproductive rights and other aspects of civil liberties law. She served as General Counsel for both Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. After graduating from Columbia University Law School, she joined the law firm of Morris Ernst (who died on May 21, 1976), and who also served Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, as well and handled early reproductive rights litigation. In the 1950s, Pilpel and Ernst represented Dr. Alfred Kinsey against efforts to censor his pioneering research on sexual behavior.

Pilpel gave a very important paper at the 1964 ACLU Biennial Conference, which was nominally about the “war on crime” but discussed the existing laws making both abortion and homosexual activity crimes. She labeled all such laws “a dagger aimed at the heart of some of our most fundamental freedoms,” a very advanced position for 1964, but one that clearly had a major impact on ACLU policy and the direction of the law.

See Pilpel (and two others) on the William Buckley TV show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cffF9oAwEHQ

Learn more about Pilpel, sex and civil liberties: Leigh Ann Wheeler, How Sex Became a Civil Liberty (2013)

Read Pilpel’s early (1969) article on the right to abortion: http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/95sep/abortion/pilp.htm

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