The Family Roe: The People Behind the Landmark Ruling


On Nov. 15, 2021, the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy hosted a book talk on The Family Roe: An American Story by Joshua Prager. The book explores the lives of the families and figures involved in the Court’s most divisive case and its landmark ruling. The Yale Health Law and Policy Society and the Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice co-hosted the event.

The panel came at a time when Roe v. Wade faces unprecedented challenges. The book dives into the lives at the heart of the case, the court decision, and the social movements surrounding it. Randi Epstein, Writer in Residence at the Yale School of Medicine, lecturer in the Yale English Department, and an adjunct professor at Columbia School of Journalism; and Linda Greenhouse, Clinical Lecturer in Law and Senior Research Scholar at Yale Law School, joined the panel to offer expert commentary and interview Prager on his work.

Prager opened the talk by describing how he began the journey of writing the book. He spoke to the families and partners of those named in the suit and also to the attorneys who brought the case to the Court. Prager noted the importance he felt in telling this story to “give voice to the human reality of each side of the v.,” paraphrasing a quote by law professor Laurence Tribe. According to Prager, not only did this storytelling illuminate the challenges faced by everyone involved in the case, but also it enabled him to elucidate what it really means to be pro-choice or pro-life. By detailing what an abortion process entails for a doctor or describing the lives of the women who receive abortions, for example, Prager said he believes the conversation becomes more complicated and nuanced. “If there’s one thing that motivated me above all…it is trying to explain that abortion is fraught for a good reason,” he said.

After Prager’s opening, Epstein added, “Few people understand all the humanity that went into shaping the law.” Prager’s book, she summarized, is “about people and their  motivations. It’s about how they use and need each other to push their narratives. It’s about power dynamics.”

Greenhouse then built on Prager’s previous thoughts, describing how well Prager described the fraught nature of abortion. She stated that even for pro-choice people, reading about the doctor in the book and his late-term abortion practice proves difficult.

Prager continued that almost all aspects of this issue are fraught, including the word choice, which became a challenge for him while writing. He settled on relying on the common terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life,” but the descriptions of nearly any medical or social term come with loaded connotations.

Summarizing Prager’s work, Abbe R. Gluck ’00, Alfred M. Rankin Professor of Law and the founding Faculty Director of the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy, said that  “Josh goes after mysteries and discovers the undiscoverable.”