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Spring 2022 Reading Group

Roe at 50

Prerequisites: None

Exam Type: No Exam

On the cusp of the fiftieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, abortion law casts a particularly long shadow over modern American constitutional jurisprudence, sparking doctrinal debates about everything from standing to stare decisis, shaping the process of Supreme Court nominations, and illuminating discussion about how the courts can—and cannot—produce social change. As important, policymakers in a wide variety of jurisdictions have used American abortion law as a touchstone in rethinking their own rules, evaluating the role of the courts, the nature of constitutional rights, and the intersection of constitutional law and party politics. At the same time, the lessons of the past several decades of domestic abortion law have remained hotly contested.

In this one-credit reading group, we will study, map, and evaluate the law, history, and medical practice of abortion in America in the decades since Roe v. Wade. We will discuss not only the evolution of case law but also its relationship to medical norms, party politics, social and racial justice, and broader discussions of social-movement strategy. We will explore how American law has served as both an inspiration and a cautionary tale for other nations reconsidering their rules on abortion. We will evaluate the way that Roe has come to stand for a broad variety of ideas about sex, reproduction, science, and the judiciary. By looking at the law through the lens of the abortion debate, the class will explore broader questions about what explains legal polarization and how social movements can (and cannot) use the law to overcome it.

Note: This reading group will meet on the following dates: 2/1, 2/8, 2/22, 3/8, 3/29, and 4/5.