Harvard University Forced to Adjust 50th Anniversary of Roe Celebration After Dobbs Decision

Photo by Danilo Rios on Unsplash

In 2020, Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute began planning a 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.

In 2022, the school was forced to adjust its plans to suit the “new reality” of abortion in America — that is, the end of the “Age of Roe” the exhibition will focus on.

“The Age of Roe: The Past, Present, and Future of Abortion in America” opened last week to showcase Radcliffe’s extensive collections on the “long and contentious struggle over women’s reproductive rights in the nation,” as The Harvard Gazette recently noted.

“Obviously, we had to adjust a bit to account for the fact that the age of Roe, as the exhibit says, is over,” the exhibition’s curator and UC Davis professor Mary Ziegler told the paper. “Then the exhibit became a sort of meditation on what does it mean that Roe has gone, or in what ways is Roe gone, and in what ways is this sort of preoccupation with it still with us?”

Ziegler appeared to hope that the show, which will feature extensive documents and material from both the pro- and anti-abortion movements, will comfort those who feel “powerless” after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned Roe, paving the way for states to restrict or ban abortion.

“We tend to feel helplessness and inevitability when we think about contemporary abortion politics; helplessness in the sense that the Supreme Court has done what it has done, and people feel, regardless of their views on the issue, that they don’t have a whole lot to say about the matter; and inevitability in the sense that people feel that there’s not much politically they can do,” said Ziegler.

Jane Kamensky, American history professor and director of the Pforzheimer Foundation of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe, said that  “We know that legally, politically, institutionally, intellectually, rights around pregnancy are more unsettled than they’ve been in half a century in the reproductive lifetimes of pretty much everyone alive today.”

“There’s no family in America to whom the Roe decision did not speak in some way or another and to whom the Dobbs decision does not speak in new ways.”

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