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W&L Law Symposium on Roe v Wade Strives for Balance

On Nov. 7-8, Washington and Lee University School of Law will host a symposium exploring Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Forty years have passed since the Court decided the case, yet the issue of abortion continues to split society along seemingly intractable lines.

One of the goals of the W&L symposium , says faculty organizer Assoc. Dean Sam Calhoun, is to address this divide by creating a balanced forum that provides varying perspectives on abortion.

“Encouraging a civil and comprehensive discussion of abortion has long been an interest of mine,” says Calhoun. “I’ve tried to accomplish this in my Abortion Controversy Seminar, and I have written about the challenges involved in pulling this off.”

Indeed, the W&L event is not the first to explore the Roe decision during this anniversary year, but Calhoun observes that most of these other events have been one-sided, typically dominated by the pro-choice perspective. Calhoun and his student partners from the W&L Law Review, Thomas Short and Lara Gass, worked hard to bring a balance of perspectives to the event.

“This is reflected in both the presentations and in our event sponsors,” says Calhoun. “Also, we will have two keynote speakers, one by a pro-choice advocate and the other by a pro-life advocate.”

One of the keynotes will be delivered by Caitlin Borgmann, Professor of Law at CUNY School of Law. Her scholarship focuses on the respective roles and authority of the courts and the legislatures in protecting constitutional rights, and on the role and judicial treatment of fact-finding in constitutional rights cases. She has also written extensively about reproductive rights.

The other keynote will be delivered by Michael Paulsen, Distinguished University Chair and Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Paulsen is among the nation’s leading scholars of constitutional interpretation.

Sponsors for the event include the ACLU of Virginia, the Frances Lewis Law Center of Washington and Lee University, the Provost’s Office of Washington and Lee University, University Faculty for Life, Virginia NOW, and the Washington and Lee Law Review. A full list of participants and presentation schedule can be seen online at law.wlu.edu/roeat40.

By focusing on balanced perspectives, symposium organizers do not mean to suggest that advocates should give up their principled stances or that abortion is an issue for which compromise can be readily accomplished. Rather, Calhoun says the motivating concept is that an academic conference should encourage a free and full exchange of views and that this goal is possible even for an issue as contentious as abortion.

“I don’t expect any of the participants to change their views,” says Calhoun. “But hopefully they will at least better understand the opposing side, laying the groundwork for continued productive dialogue in the future.”