End of Roe: What the Signs Said

Students use signs from the protests following the Supreme Court’s landmark Dobbs ruling as a taking off place for discussion and dialogue on the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

To the Teacher:

This lesson uses signs from the protests following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization as a basis for student reflection and discussion.

The lesson provides three possible formats for engaging in this exploration: a circle, a group dialogue, or a “stand under” activity. Before you begin the lesson, consider which format will be best for your class.


Supreme Court protest
Protesting the Dobbs decision outside the Supreme Court. Photo by Adam Fagen.



The media excerpts below provide some background on the Dobbs ruling and the response to it that may be helpful for you or your students.

National Public Radio

“In a historic and far-reaching decision, the U.S. Supreme Court officially reversed Roe v. Wade on Friday [June 24, 2022], declaring that the constitutional right to abortion, upheld for a nearly half century, no longer exists. …. The decision, most of which was leaked in early May, means that abortion rights will be rolled back in nearly half of the states immediately, with more restrictions likely to follow. For all practical purposes, abortion will not be available in large swaths of the country. The decision may well mean too that the court itself, as well as the abortion question, will become a focal point in the upcoming fall elections and and thereafter.”

USA Today

“We know that [the overturning of Roe is] going to impact those who already have barriers to healthcare ….,” said women's health and reproductive rights policy expert Fatima Goss Graves, an attorney and president of the National Women’s Law Center. “Those who live in rural areas, women of color, those who have low income … people may travel hundreds of miles to get to states where abortions are still allowed. Young and low-income people, who are disproportionately of color, may not be able to afford the cost of travel.  This will be a giant and larger hurdle placed in front of them,” Graves said.….

Center for American Progress attorney and women’s health policy analyst Elyssa Spitzer noted women of color and LGBTQ people already experience bias and discrimination in healthcare.  “It is very concerning, and very alarming and would devastate access for many millions of women in the United States,” she said. Subjecting women to carry an unintended pregnancy to term "is immensely painful, and arduous and a violation of human rights.”

The New Yorker

“Support of abortion has never been higher, with more than two-thirds of Americans in favor of retaining Roe, and fifty-seven per cent affirming a woman’s right to abortion for any reason. Even so, there are Republican officials who have made it clear that they will attempt to pass a federal ban on abortion if and when they control both chambers of Congress and the Presidency. Anyone who can get pregnant must now face the reality that half of the country is in the hands of legislators who … believe that, if you are impregnated by another person, under any circumstance, you have a legal and moral duty to undergo pregnancy, delivery, and, in all likelihood, two decades or more of caregiving, ….”

The Christian Science Monitor

“Praise and lament for the overturning of abortion rights filled sacred spaces this weekend as clergy across the U.S. rearranged worship plans or rewrote sermons to provide their religious context … about the historic moment.  Abortion is a visceral issue for deeply divided religious Americans. Some are sad or angry in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s seismic Dobbs v. Jackson decision Friday. Others are grateful and elated. 

At St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh, the Very Rev. Kris Stubna … focused on the decision, calling it “a day of great joy and blessing.” He said the overturning of the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade ruling was the result of prayers and efforts of many Catholics and others. “This law violated the very law of God, that every life is sacred,” he said. “A person cannot support abortion and still be a faithful member of the church.” Stubna’s comments would be considered divisive by some since U.S. Catholics disagree on abortion rights. Supporters include high-profile members of the faith like President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who face Communion restrictions as a result. …. A majority of adults from Buddhist, Hindu, historically Black Protestant, Jewish, mainline Protestant, Muslim, and Orthodox Christian faiths support legal abortion in all or most cases, according to a Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study.


Opening Ceremony

Authors Kay Pranis and Carolyn Boyes-Watson write in Circle Forward that “joy is an antidote to stress.” Read this quote aloud, or invite a student to read it: 

When we are confronting difficult challenges or even just the ordinary stresses and weariness of everyday life, we must be intentional about nurturing joy within our own self as well as others.  …. The ability to feel emotional pain—anger, fear and sadness—along with positive feelings of joy and pleasure is an intrinsic part of our biological emotional hardware. Choosing to nurture joy does not mean turning a blind eye to pain or difficulty or injustice. It means holding positive possibilities while looking deeply into pain. Deep truth about what is and recognizing joy can exist side by side.

We are living through stressful times and the topic of today’s lesson is stressful for many people. So invite a volunteer to read the Sufi poet Rumi’s quote about joy: 

Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who's there.

Invite students to share one thing that brings them joy.


What the Signs Said: Protests from around the Country

Explain that in today’s lesson we’ll reflect on the signs that were held at protests around the country following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, thus eliminating 48 years of federal protection for the right to abortion.  

The decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, was one of several rulings that moved the country’s jurisprudence sharply to the right. People around the country (and world) poured into the streets in protest. The lesson that follows reflects on some of the perspectives from those protests.

Consider using this handout, “What the Signs Said,” in one of the following ways. 

Restorative Circle

Cut the “What the Signs Said” handout into 47 strips and put them in an envelope.  Explain to students that these strips represent what some of the signs said at the protests following the Supreme Court decision overturning of Roe v Wade.

Give the envelope to the first participant in the circle.  Ask the participant to take a strip out of the envelope and read the statement on it out loud. 

Instruct participants to hold on to the envelope while they are reading the statement so that everyone else in the circle can focus on listening. Instruct participants to hold onto the strip and allow for a few seconds of silence before passing on the envelope to the next participant. Each participant is invited to take a strip from the envelope and read it out loud before passing the envelope on to their neighbor.

If a participant feels uncomfortable with the statement on the strip they draw, they can exchange it for another one in the envelope or pass on reading a strip altogether.

Pass the envelope around the circle until all participants have had a chance to read out a statement.

Next, pass the talking piece around several times asking students some or all of the following questions:

GO ROUND: How did it feel to read and/listen to these statements?  Explain.

GO ROUND: How do you think the people who created the signs felt?  Explain.

GO ROUND: What feelings do you think the signs convey? Explain.

GO ROUND: Which statement made the biggest impact on you?  Explain.

GO ROUND: Which statement do you have questions about?  Explain.

At any point if you feel there is more that students have to share on a particular prompt, invite them to share their: “connections, reflections, and additions” to what was shared in the circle.

Group Dialogue

Distribute the “What the Signs Said” handout. Consider creating a shorter version of the handout by selecting the “signs” that you think will spark the most meaningful conversation among your students.

Invite students to read the “What the Signs Say” handout and pick a sign or two that speak to them or stand out for them.

In pairs, have them share out what sign(s) they picked and why. 

Back in the large group, facilitate a conversation about the “What the Signs Say” handout, using some or all of the following prompts:

  • How did it feel to read and these statements?  Explain.
  • How do you think the people who created the signs felt?  Explain.
  • What feelings do you think the signs convey? Explain.
  • Which statement made the biggest impact on you?  Explain.
  • Which statement(s) do you have questions about?  Explain.

Stand Under Activity

Using the handout “What the Signs Said,” pick up to seven signs that you think will spark the most meaningful conversation among your students. Print or write them up on signs, in large type, to post around the room

Invite students to read the signs around the room, pick one that speaks to them or stands out for them, and go stand by or under that sign. If only one student is standing by a sign or two, invite those students to join another person or group.

In the smaller groups that have been created, invite students to discuss:

  • Why did you pick this sign to stand under?
  • How does the statement make them feel? 
  • How do they think the person who made the sign felt? 

Back in the large group, invite representatives from each group to share out some of the main points they discussed. 

From there, facilitate a dialogue by inviting students to add any reflections, connections, and additions to what they heard from their classmates. Consider revisiting any of the questions from the small groups for further discussion, as well as:

  • What feelings do you think the signs convey? Explain.
  • Which statement(s) do you have questions about?  Explain.


Invite students to share one thing they learned in today’s lesson, or one thing they’d like to learn more about.



Sign Sources