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Mary Ziegler | Leading authority on the legal history of American reproductive rights | Author of Beyond Abortion and Dollars for Life
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

This is a crucial moment in our democracy: our courts and politics are divided, and the binding trust that we place in our institutions is fast eroding. But historian Mary Ziegler says that we can move beyond polarization—we can achieve a better dialogue and fairer future for all. Widely hailed as a nonpartisan authority on the Constitution and the legal history of reproductive rights, Mary is a professor at UC Davis School of Law, the author of four acclaimed books, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times and The Atlantic. “There's a lot of demonization of people we don't agree with that stems from a lack of empathy,” Mary says. “This isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a democracy issue.”

“One of our very best—and nonpartisan!—historians of post-1970 America.”

— David J. Garrow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Bearing the Cross

Mary Ziegler is a leading authority on reproductive and constitutional rights within the American justice system. As a lawyer, she understands how our courts affect every facet of our lives; as a historian, she investigates

how we got to this level of political division and polarization—and how we can still get ourselves out. 

One of the foremost legal historians on the loss of Constitutional rights and the political landscape after Roe v. Wade, Mary reveals that the abortion debate is a symptom of larger shifts in our democracy: “abortion can be the canary in the coal mine when it comes to other changes in the US political system.”


Her newest book Dollars for Life traces how the battle to reverse Roe v. Wade changed the rules around our economy, our elections, and our democracy at large. Her previous three books offer a compelling view of American abortion law and politics, and how they connect to our trust in the justice system. She’s currently a professor at the University of California, Davis School of Law, and has provided critical commentary and expertise to news outlets including CNN, NPR, Bloomberg TV, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

Speech Topics

Politics & Society
Canary in the Coalmine What It Means to Lose a Constitutional Right

The reversal of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision to protect the right to choose abortion, is about much more than reproductive rights. At its heart, it’s about the rise of a conservative legal movement, the transformation of Supreme Court nominations, the fundamental changes in the U.S. Republican Party, and the rise of extreme polarization. What does this decision mean for our democracy or the Court’s legitimacy?

As a preeminent expert on the legal and political history of our constitutional rights, lawyer and historian Mary Ziegler is uniquely situated to answer these questions and guide us through this turbulent topic. Understanding what happened to Roe v. Wade shines a light on broader issues of partisanship and the erosion of democratic norms in the United States—but it’s not too late to regain control of our democracy and restore our trust in the justice system.

Social Justice
A Nation Divided What Can We Do About American Polarization?

Polls show that American voters are mostly in agreement about abortion, but legal and political debates continue to rage from the right to the left—and that’s just one of the many current issues that divide us. How did we get to this point, and how can we recover?

Legal historian Mary Ziegler points to the fact that we haven’t always been this divided, which means that we can still take responsibility for our conflicts and work together for a better future. With insights from her prominent legal history research, she investigates the causes and effects of our deepening political rifts. She guides us to an understanding of where our current debates come from, and how we can rebuild a kinder and more nuanced dialogue around the law, the justice system, and our fundamental rights.