Interdisciplinary course “Politics of Reproduction” exploring the history and implications of Roe v. Wade – The Source – Washington University in St. Louis – Washington University in St. Louis | Candle Made Easy

The abortion debate only really took off after the Dobbs v. Jackson’s US Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade and removed constitutional protections for abortion and returned the issue to the states. Since the ruling, 12 states have banned or severely restricted abortion, and bans are pending or suspended in at least 10 other states.

In response, the Office of the Provost at Washington University in St. Louis is offering a new interdisciplinary course this fall designed to provide students with a nuanced understanding of what led to the decision and the ramifications while themselves moving the nation forward in a post-Roe movement world.


Over the course of the semester, students on the 1.5-credit-hour Politics of Reproduction (I50 INTER D 310) course will explore topics such as reproductive health, law, disability, economics, film, politics, reproductive justice, and religion through a range of topics examine in-person events and public webinars with leading academics from almost every school, as well as guest speakers. There will also be options to complete work asynchronously.

Rebecca Wanzo, professor and chair of the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in Arts & Sciences, said when designing the course that she wanted to create a course that would appeal to students of all disciplines and provide them with a variety of different knowledge bases they need think more holistically about this topic.

“I want people to realize how the abortion debates touch on pretty much every aspect of life, and that’s one of the things that helps you achieve interdisciplinary thinking,” Wanzo said.

“We are fortunate to have some leading authorities on these issues on campus, scholars like Marie Griffith, author of Moral Combat; Susan Appleton, a nationally recognized expert on family law and feminist legal theory; and Zakiya Luna, an influential thought leader on reproductive justice.”

The course kicked off in July with a public event where Tessa Madden, MD, and Dineo Khabele, MD, from the School of Medicine discussed what Dobbs’ reproductive health looks like. The event was recorded for students to watch asynchronously. Other speakers include:

  • Anca Parvulescu, Rachel Brown and Shanti Parikh, in Arts & Sciences, and Mytheli Sreenivas, at Ohio State University, on abortion rights in other countries;
  • The Brown School’s Jessica Levy on public health, motherhood and poverty; and
  • Diana O’Brien, in Arts & Sciences, on Legislative Politics and Abortion.

Bringing together these diverse, internationally renowned scholars in one course is a unique opportunity for students.

“Politics of Reproduction is intended to be an exploratory course that gives people time to reflect on issues that may be challenging for them or that may be outside of their comfort zone.”

Rebekah Wanzo

“Politics of Reproduction is meant to be an exploratory course that gives people time to think about issues that might be challenging for them or that might be outside of their comfort zone,” Wanzo said.

Rather than shying away from sensitive topics, Wanzo said the class will address them head-on, drawing on a variety of research and scholars from economists to religious and legal scholars, philosophers and more. People from all political persuasions are welcome to take the course; However, all students are expected to engage in respectful conversations about these topics, just like in other classes.

“Because that’s what we, as members of the university community, do. We’re modeling better forms of debate and conversation than we might see elsewhere in our culture,” Wanzo said.

During the final session, faculty members from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and the McKelvey School of Engineering will lead students into a workshop reflecting on what the reproductive future should look like for themselves and the world at large.

In St. Louis, for St. Louis and beyond

The Politics of Reproduction course was inspired by another popular interdisciplinary pop-up course, The Pandemic: Science and Society, offered by Arts & Sciences in Summer 2020. More than 1,200 students have completed this online course. Although this course will be smaller – as it takes place while students have other course options – it is still intended to give as many students as possible the opportunity to take the course, Wanzo said.

Many of the lectures this semester will be public and open to the public, allowing the university to share its knowledge and expertise with the community and drive discourse on the issues, Wanzo explained.

“In developing this course, we are modeling what the future of science can offer, where university communities from different disciplines come together to think through complicated problems – not just for their small, cherished community, but for society,” Wanzo said.

This course would not be possible without the support of the Provost Office and faculty members, Wanzo said.

“Faculty members have been overwhelmingly excited to be involved in this community project, and I am deeply grateful to them,” she added.

“A university has a responsibility to prepare students for citizenship and to provide opportunities to think deeply about important issues. This course will provide students with a broader range of tools to discuss and understand one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

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