It’s a safe bet that interest in Roe v. Wade won’t decline any time soon. Friday’s release of the Supreme Court decision overturning the landmark 1973 ruling guaranteeing the right to abortion has sparked ongoing protests around the nation. Public dialogue in the media and in local forums about the issue was already at a fever pitch, owing to the May 2 leak of a draft of the decision.
The battle over women’s reproductive rights has been long and contentious. And while Roe has been the law of the land for half a century, it’s clear that the issue was not settled in the minds of all Americans. Collections at the Schlesinger Library at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute document the abortion dispute in the U.S., providing rich historical and political context and offering insights into the evolution of one of the nation’s most stubbornly polarizing issues.
The holdings of the Schlesinger, a research library on the history of women in America, include archival materials that chronicle the dispute from both the abortion rights and the anti-abortion movements, said Jenny Gotwals, Johanna-Maria Fraenkel Curator for Gender and Society there. Among them are photographs, records of abortion-rights organizations, posters of anti-abortion advocates, and personal letters of women asking for help to terminate their pregnancies as well as personal papers and documents of anti-abortion activists.
“One of the most interesting aspects of our collections on women’s reproductive rights is that they span the very personal and very public,” said Gotwals. “We know that in order for historians to tell the whole history of the conflict over abortion, we must have archives that document people who are coming to this issue from different standpoints.”