The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study opened a new exhibit on the history of abortion in the United States on Monday, spanning the decades leading up to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.
Plans for the exhibit, titled “The Age of Roe: The Past, Present and Future of Abortion in America,” were changed this year after the Supreme Court’s controversial Roe v. Wade’s repeal that protected the constitutional right to abortion — with its June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
For the past two years, the Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library had been working to prepare an exhibit to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 2023. Before the Dobbs court ruling, the library had planned to display its “extensive collections documenting the long and contentious battle for women’s reproductive rights in the country.
Mary R. Ziegler ’04, the exhibit’s curator and historian of reproductive health at the University of California, Davis School of Law, wrote in an emailed statement that despite the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe, the exhibit’s intended purpose remains the same.
“We had planned the exhibit to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Roe and to consider what Roe, broadly speaking, meant to the ongoing struggles over reproduction in America,” Zielger wrote. “Now, apparently, Roe is gone, at least as a matter of black letter law.”
“We decided to turn around, looking back at the era that Roe had defined and considering whether and even when it has ended,” she added. “But the purpose of the exhibition — to bring light, not warmth — and to invite viewers to meet people whose lives have been deeply affected by abortion — did not change.”
Ziegler also wrote that the Roe overturn reinforced the importance of creating the exhibit.
“If anything, in a world where abortion may once again be a crime, it seemed even more important to listen to the pro-abortion voices we don’t always pay attention to,” she wrote.
The Schlesinger Library exhibit features a variety of items related to women’s reproductive rights over the past century, including political buttons, postcards, letters, artwork and portraits of notables.
The exhibition will be on display at the Schlesinger Library until March 4, 2023. The Radcliffe Institute also plans to hold a conference in January 2023 on the exhibition and the state of abortion in America.
—Staff writer Carol E. Curran can be reached at [email protected]