Bringing Reproductive Rights & Justice to Law Schools

Sabrina Andrus, JD, Executive Director, Law Students for Reproductive Justice
Mariko Miki, JD, Director of Academic & Professional Programs, Law Students for Reproductive Justice

Cases on Repro Rights and JusticeToday Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) is thrilled to celebrate the publication of the first-ever case book dedicated to reproductive rights and justice issues. Cases on Reproductive Rights and Justice (Foundation Press), authored by Professors Melissa Murray and Kristen Luker from UC Berkeley Law School in partnership with UC Berkeley Law School’s Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice, is the result of nearly a decade of critical discussion, convenings, and hard work.

You may not know this, but LSRJ played an integral role in the story of the case book. Our law student members have campaigned across the country for nearly a decade, advocating for courses that frame reproductive issues as part of a larger conversation about power, race, and class. Back in 2004, under the leadership of LSRJ’s Founder and then-Executive Director Cari Sietstra, we began to envision curriculum enrichment efforts in order to support our law student members who were lamenting the lack of courses dedicated to reproductive rights issues (sadly, one 15 minute discussion of Roe v. Wade in Constitutional Law does not count as a detailed and nuanced discussion of abortion jurisprudence). We got to work supporting law students as they campaigned for courses, first at schools including Harvard and Berkeley. We quickly developed a model curriculum to help them in their endeavors, and celebrated the first course created as a result of our initiative: a class at Harvard taught by Janet Benshoof, founder of the Global Justice Center and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

And to provide our students with another tool for their campus advocacy, we began surveying ABA-accredited law schools to get a sense of how many reproductive rights law and justice courses were being taught, publishing a Course Survey detailing our findings. The latest 2014 Reproductive Rights Law & Justice Course Survey, for example, found that since 2003, 76 unique reproductive rights law & justice courses have been taught at 46 law schools in 22 states. And almost one-third of those courses are the result of student-led course campaigns.

But we needed more. Kara Loewentheil, JD (’08, Harvard Law School), former LSRJ Board President and current Director of the Public Rights/Private Conscious Project at Columbia Law School, recalls, “When I was in law school there were few reproductive rights classes and no authoritative set of materials for teaching them. In 2007, then LSRJ-Executive Director Jill Adams and I approached the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and faculty at Yale Law School to talk about developing a case book, but we soon learned that there was a lot of preparatory work that had to be done first.  So, we began the Teaching and Scholarship Initiative, which hosted gatherings of scholars to discuss and encourage new scholarly work in reproductive rights.”

Inspired and guided by those conversations, LSRJ began working in 2010 on the next iteration of our course campaign and model curriculum initiatives, a Reproductive Rights & Justice Reader, building upon the countless lessons learned from the nearly 25 course campaign victories our members had achieved. The bulk of this work was carried out by our Legal Fellows at the time, Elizabeth Kukura, JD (Freedman Fellow, Temple University School of Law) and Jessica Rubenstein, JD (Legal Counsel, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California). While we originally anticipated self-publication, we quickly understood that to achieve legitimacy within the legal academy and to reach the largest audience (and therefore provide the most help to law students, lawyers, and faculty interested in discussing reproductive rights issues with an intersectional analysis of race and class), we would need institutional affiliation. So we reached out to Professors Melissa Murray and Kristen Luker at Berkeley Law School in 2012. At that meeting we conveyed our members’ desire for a case book that discussed not only the more traditionally covered issues like abortion and contraception, but that explicitly framed those and other reproductive issues as intertwined with the critical social justice issues of our time – racism, homophobia, classism and so on. Our members wanted more than just a brief discussion about abortion jurisprudence in a Constitutional Law class, and instead demanded a textbook that helped guide a conversation about how systems of power and institutionalized oppression play out in courtrooms and capitol buildings across the country. We offered up the draft of the Reader, our vision for it, and the market analysis we had done to Professors Murray and Luker. And we continued to support their work, most recently as an official reviewer for one chapter of the case book.

To say we are ecstatic at the result of over 10 years of behind-the-scenes organizing is a true understatement. We anticipate that the case book will facilitate the course campaign efforts of our current members in ways that the model curriculum, Course Survey, and Reader could not. LSRJ Board Vice President Cecilia Fierro (’15, University of San Francisco School of Law) has been advocating for a course since she began her studies, and shares, “one of our biggest hurdles was the absence of a case book on the subject. Several of my professors at USF have sought to integrate issues of reproductive rights with race, class, and gender into their lectures, but this casebook allows for the exclusive study of the RJ framework. Basically, instead of trying to analyze a subject like criminal law with an RJ lens, students can now start with the RJ framework and see the ways in which other legal subjects influence reproductive autonomy.”

While our law student members are eager to utilize the case book in their course campaigns and learn from it in their course victories, instructors are equally enthusiastic to begin teaching from it. LSRJ’s Academic Advisory Council member Aziza Ahmed (Associate Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law) tells us, “As a former student of Professor Luker and now as a Reproductive and Sexual Rights professor myself, I am thrilled to have this case book to utilize in my course.  We have long needed a textbook that consolidates key cases on reproduction and sexuality that helps to illustrate how sexuality and reproduction sit at the center of much of our legal battles today. As a law student who was active in the reproductive justice movement throughout law school, I know how important it is to have a casebook that students can turn to as a resource and brings gravitas to the field of reproductive and sexual rights.”

Finally, as Kara Loewentheil says, “Almost a decade later, I’m so thrilled to see that our dream has become a reality under the wise and brilliant guidance of Melissa Murray and Kristen Luker. I’m only sad that I’m no longer a student and won’t be able to take a class using the text – but soon I hope to be able to teach from it!”


Top 5 Tips I’d Give My First-Year Self

Sasha Young, LSRJ Summer Intern (’16 Northwestern University School of Law)

This time last year I was reading a million “Top 10 Tips for 1Ls” lists and feeling like most of them were generic and aimed at the masses. So instead of speaking to all 1Ls, I’m going to speak to myself as a 1L. After making it through that experience, here are my top 5 tips for myself this time last year. Here are the honest things I would tell myself, a racial minority from a lower socioeconomic background at a T14 school, who was interested in social justice and not the pipeline to big law.

  1. Don’t talk to the white people about racial stuff. I didn’t come in to school very fixated on race, and I had no idea how much racial tension I’d encounter. I’m not saying that white people won’t understand or be sympathetic. But racism in law school can be very smartly hidden and excused by “logic” and especially competition. You never know who thinks that you’re just there because of affirmative action and not because you “earned” it. Save yourself the distress, and go talk to the diversity counselor or a professor that teaches something like “race and the criminal justice system.” 

  1. It’s not your responsibility to educate anyone else. For every person who tells you that they “wouldn’t want to be embarrassed to not have earned their spot,” there will be a very well-intentioned White Savior randomly telling you, “It’s so great that you [people] are here.” You’re not there to provide the “minority perspective,” or to teach the rest of the student body about racism. You’re not there to “create a diverse educational experience” for the kids who only have only ever been around people like them. You’re there to learn contracts.brb-saving-africa
  1. Get your tools ready, ya trailblazer. The machine is not-so-gently pushing you through the big law pipeline. So if that’s not part or all of your plan, you’re going to have to figure it out yourself. Surely there are schools out there that support public-interest folks better than others, but you should still talk to everyone. Find as many options as you can. Google. PSJD. Look up attorneys who do what you want to do, and see what steps they took.
  1. Don’t knock it. I know you’re suuuuure that you’re not interested in big law. But trust me; you don’t want to close any doors just yet. A happy work life isn’t just about your substantive work; your work environment is equally (if not more) important. Plus, big law opens some doors in the public interest world, just like it closes others. I had many attorneys tell me that their organizations looked skeptically at candidates who came from big law. Other attorneys told me their organizations like candidates with some big law background because they are well-trained. You’re just going to have to figure out your own path.
  1. If you want to leave, that’s ok. It’s too much time, energy, and money to spend on something you hate. If you want to take a year off, go between 1L and 2L (but ask about 2L OCI eligibility first). If you decide you don’t want to be a lawyer, you’ll find a way to pay off that year of loans. You are not stuck, and if you think you are, you’ll only hate it more. This is still your life; it doesn’t start later.2qklzz4

Good luck, 1L self. Remember, you’re the shit and don’t let anyone tell you different.

LSReJuvenated after the Annual Leadership Institute

Grace Ramsay, LSRJ Summer Reproductive Rights Activist Service Corps (RRASC) Intern (’16, Smith College)

Ever experience “social justice burnout”?  When your day-to-day is filled with researching and discussing painful topics, it can feel daunting, or even impossible, to continue in RJ work.  The 2014 Leadership Institute gave me new energy to approach the rest of this internship and to continue my work in reproductive justice.  After a whirlwind weekend starting and ending with the cute/ creepy Virgin America safety music video, the LSRJ national office is back in Oakland.  The LSRJ seventh annual Leadership Institute, hosted at George Washington University School of Law, was beyond successful from both the national office side and the attendees’ side.  I was excited to represent an organization and wear the “LSRJ hat,” while also wearing the “attendee hat” which  meant that I could check in with folks who I could consider my peers for honest feedback of the conference.  Everyone I had the chance to talk to loved the weekend as much as I did! Here were my five favorite parts of the 2014 LSRJ Leadership Institute:

1) Panels and workshops.  Of course, this was the main content of the LI, and I had the opportunity to sit in on several workshops as the point-person.  During the presentations – which varied from ways to message around abortion, to a how-to for strategic LSRJ chapter planning, to an introduction to policymaking – I got to absorb knowledge from experts across the spectrum of RJ advocacy.  Judging from how engaged our attendees were, they also appreciated the breadth of knowledge that they can now take back to their LSRJ chapters.

2) Experiencing behind the scenes facilitation.  There’s so much that goes into facilitating a conference, and I only played a small part in making sure this LI went smoothly.  Working with the national office to ensure every detail was set made me appreciate how much forethought and planning has to go into organizing successful events.  From handing water bottles to speakers, to timing each workshop, I was only able to successfully complete my part of the work because of the effort that Keely and Samantha had already put in.  Y’all are awesome!

3) Giving a presentation to a large audience.  Part of my responsibility at the LI was presenting one of LSRJ’s event toolkits to the chapter leaders.  Because of the preparation work we all put in beforehand, I felt 100% comfortable and in control of the materials I presented.  As I said to my mom on the phone afterwards, now I understand why you’re supposed to prepare presentations instead of winging it!  I’m hoping that my presentation of the sex-ed event toolkit, along with Gavin and Sasha’s event toolkit presentations, helped chapter leaders better understand how to put on successful events on their campuses.

4) Connecting with LSRJ folks. One person I spoke with this weekend called the LSRJ network a “family.”  She said the term networking is too scary and inaccessible to describe the connections formed during the LI.  I appreciated that so many law students were willing to engage with me – a lowly undergrad!- and suggest different organizations I should check out in the upcoming semester.  Like I said before, I was lucky enough to both represent internsLSRJ and interact with attendees in a more interpersonal sense.

5) Bonding with the office!  There’s something about flying across the coast that makes a national office closer.  I can’t speak for all of us, but I have the feeling everyone had a more-than-fun time together, especially us interns.  Yes, this is a Snapchat:

Thanks to everyone who attended the 2014 Leadership Institute, and I hope that everyone there found it beyond worthwhile!

Dropping the F-Bomb

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

How many times has one of your friends started their sentence with “I’m not a feminist, but…”? If you answered “one,” that’s already too many. We [read: self-proclaimed feminists] hear the beginning of that sentence not just from our friends, but from celebrities, professors, acquaintances, and even blind dates. Sometimes, the qualifying “but” isn’t even thrown in; sometimes it’s the conclusory “I’m not a feminist.” A few weeks ago, a fellow female law student told me after class, “I would never call myself a feminist, but pregnancy discrimination has gotten out of control.” Does that mean feminism could finally warm its way into her heart if pregnancy discrimination hit absolute rock bottom? Now, to be fair, some people just refuse to ascribe any labels to themselves [read: hipsters]. But the most common “I am not a feminist” utterer isn’t someone who really doesn’t believe in feminism or hates labels, it’s someone who doesn’t want to be perceived as a feminist, or just does not understand it. I’ve been told “I can’t possibly be a feminist because I like pink and I like to get my nails done.” But when I pressed whether this person believed that there were social and cultural forces that prevented women from achieving equality on par with men, she answered with an unqualified “yes.” So what is it about the F-word that gives people the heebie-jeebies?

Embarassingly, I used to be a feminism-denier when I was an undergrad at Harvard. But there’s nothing quite like being surrounded by scary-rich young men of privilege to turn you into a practicing feminist. It didn’t help my anti-feminism either to learn that many of my friends had been survivors of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault; and apparently, it hasn’t gotten much better. Aside from the traditional, feminist groups on campus where I gained some much-needed perspective, there was also a growing coalition of conservative women. When one of these women (a board member of the campus republicans) was interviewed about her work, she proudly noted that she was a feminist. In response, one of her male, republican colleagues commented “that’s cute that she thinks that.” His comment gets at the source of the ire for the F-word: supposedly, it’s only reserved for certain women – women who don’t shave their armpits, who attend Lilith Fair, who go on diatribes about killing off the male race.

But the crux of feminism is that, as my Women and the Law professor reminds our class, there are many, many feminisms. They don’t all agree with each other. My feminism, for example, has been pulled in so many directions that it now feels like salt water taffy. But they all embrace the idea that something is wrong with the way our society treats women, and it needs fixing. If you can acknowledge that, then you are a feminist. And when you’re ready, I have an extra ticket to the Lilith Fair revival tour with your name on it.

Lady Parts

Mangala Kanayson, Resident Blogger (’15, Emory University School of Law)

Dear LSRJ Blog Reader,

Lady Parts (LP) is a student-run production that highlights the issues surrounding gender, sexuality, and identity, as pertaining to women. Through a series of monologues, LP aims to educate, enlighten, and empower both women and the surrounding community in order to accept, advocate, and celebrate.

In 2013,  Emory Law Students for Reproductive Justice, in partnership with the corresponding student organizations at the Public Health and Medical Schools, brought Eve Ensler’s play “The Vagina Monologues” to the Emory Graduate community for the first time. This year the show has progressed toward new goals. In the interest of creating a more diverse and inclusive show this year’s production will be featuring monologues written by Emory students about the modern day triumphs and hardships of being a woman. We are particularly interested in exploring the intersectionality of other aspects of identity (age, race, orientation, class) with womanhood and how our experiences are both shared and different.

If you’re in the Atlanta area and interested in acting or would like to learn more about the production, please click here and get involved. The show is on March 20, 2014 at 7pm in Tull Auditorium. We look forward to seeing you in March! If you’d like to support us but are unable to do so in person, please consider donating to our beneficiary SPARK on behalf of LadyParts here.


As a LSRJ alum, I care about women winning

Kate Baxter-Kauf, Guest Blogger, (’11, University of Minnesota Law School)

Like most alumni members of the LSRJ, I was active during law school in my chapter, serving as the co-treasurer for two law school years and going to meetings all three, and helping to organize fund raisers, educational events, and visiting speakers (though perhaps not as active as two of our copresidents during my law school, both of whom LSRJ has profiled!). Also like most alumni members of the LSRJ, I’m committed to fostering legal expertise and support for the realization of reproductive justice. During law school, my involvement with LSRJ made the method through which I supported these goals clear —my LSRJ chapter had a full and vibrant schedule of ways to learn and get involved.

But since graduating from law school, I’ve been less sure how to support reproductive justice in more tangible ways than being informed and following smart activists on Twitter. I work in private practice; my job doesn’t involve non-profit or advocacy work on a day to day basis. There does not seem to be much of a need for pro bono direct legal services for those seeking abortions in my area—I looked, for example, as to whether minors requiring a judicial bypass proceeding needed counsel in Minnesota, where I live, but my research and discussion with providers indicated that guardians at litem and not lawyers were the ordinary volunteers. Every pro-choice organization needs donations and holds events, and I’ve found a few I especially like, especially those that directly fund abortions for people who can’t afford them.

Over the past year I have found a different opportunity to participate in the movement through an organization called womenwinning. The organization recruits, trains, and helps pro-choice women candidates get elected and the events it puts on directly support this mission—I went to a house party that discussed essential traits of successful global leaders in the context of women in the workplace with Dr. Annmarie Neal that was fantastic, and last year’s annual luncheon with former Senator Olympia Snowe was both inspiring and informative about the ongoing need for pro-choice women officials across the ideological spectrum. Next week, I’ll be attending my second annual Wine, Chocolate & Choice event, which is specifically designed to aid young pro-choice women like myself in fostering the next generation of reproductive rights advocates.

If you’re in Minneapolis next week and a supporter of LSRJ, you should join me. If you’re not, I highly encourage you—in addition to supporting LSRJ, supporting and funding direct reproductive rights services, and other events—to seek out these types of organizations. Finding a way to elect pro-choice women candidates to all levels of public office is a concrete step in the fight for reproductive rights and justice.

Note from the LSRJ national office – as a 501(c)(3) organization, we do not support or oppose any candidate running for public office. Any LSRJ alum or member affiliating with WomenWinning is doing so as a private individual.

Bridging the Divide

Mangala Kanayson, Resident Blogger (’15, Emory University School of Law)

Every year on the anniversary of Roe v Wade anti-choice and pro-choice protesters clash in a media frenzy that feeds on the stark divide between two divergent views on abortion. Though meaningful access to abortion is an integral part of the reproductive justice movement, focusing on the black and white morality of abortion can detract from a deeper discussion on the root causes of social inequities that affect women’s lives.

Is it possible to imagine a political landscape where women, regardless of our views on abortion, mobilize our significant resources and unite to work towards a world where all pregnancies are intended and welcomed?  Where we are addressing structural change to our current patriarchy-centric society?

As unlikely as it seems that you may be able to see eye to eye with anti-choice advocates, consider the possibility of reaching out to the Advocates for Life student organization on your law school campus to see if you can work together on less polarizing issues.  Have an honest, civil conversation with someone from across the divide and you might be pleasantly surprised by how much support you can offer each other.

Roe: One Con Law Experience

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

I had been dreading and yet also looking forward to this con law class for months – the class on Roe v. Wade. The attacks on Roe were the reason I came to law school. I meticulously read the opinion the night before, and steadied myself for a battle. But the class came and went without so much as a 1L wincing at the word “abortion,” which turned out being the worst case scenario – Roe passing by as just another case to remember for the final.

I looked back at the (truncated) case in my textbook and realized that all of the fervor from the opinion had been sucked dry. There was nothing from the original opinion on the incredible hurdles that women had transcended to get an abortion, or on the devastating effects unplanned pregnancies had on women who were forced to carry them to term. Or just as importantly, there was no discussion of the federal and state policies put in place since Roe that have made it so difficult to access abortion that Roe is practically moot.  Instead, my 1L con law class read a few legalese passages on the “penumbra” of privacy rights. So for Roe’s anniversary, as a LSRJ chapter leader at my law school, I hope to bring the real Roe story to my classmates – that it’s not just a case to memorize for the final, its about women and our right to control our bodies

The Rape Apologist

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

As a TA for a criminal law class this past semester, I witnessed some pretty scary comments about sexual assault from law students.  Those comments were the inspiration behind this post.

A “rape apologist” is someone who sympathizes with the rapist (The onion has summarized this affliction oh-so-well.)  Here’s how to identify and treat the symptoms of such a person:

  1. The raised eyebrow at the mention of rape. Treatment: pretend you were talking about rate…s of inflation in this country. Get out while you still can!
  2. Outlining his perfect rape apology scenario: “So things are getting hot and heavy between a girl and a guy. She decides she’s not into it, but she just lies there, and doesn’t say anything. And the guy still thinks it’s great, so he keeps going. How can you blame him when she doesn’t say anything?” Treatment: “Does that sound like good sex to any reasonable human being? You make sure your partner is properly lying like a frozen, dead fish, you don’t speak, and you just continue? LADIES: GET IN LINE, THIS GUY JUST CONTINUES.”
  3. The proper allocation of blame: “The ‘victim’ [read: air quotes] needs to ask what she was doing to cause her rape.” Treatment: “Sir, I believe you are speaking to personal responsibility. You know what’s a good barometer for personal responsibility? Simply asking your partner, ‘is this ok?’
  4. “Science” that conveniently apologizes for rape: “Besides, science says that men are biologically predisposed to commit rape. So, come on: science…” Treatment: “I believe you are referring to Thornhill and Palmer’s A Natural History of Rape, which can be summarized as: ‘male scorpionflies seem to rape, therefore male humans obviously need to rape.’ You should read Besteman and Gusterson’s book, Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong. They are leading anthropologists who de-bunk biological determinism. But I understand if you’re too busy reading… Reddit…?”

If you or someone you know suffers from rape apology, there is still hope. Call that person out on it today!

True Story: I Volunteered As An Abortion Clinic Escort

Caitlin Bancroft, Guest Blogger, (’15, George Washington University Law School)

This article was published by The Frisky.

“Look at me. Look in my eyes. Let me tell you why I’m here. I’m here because I figure that the women who come here have already agonized over this decision enough. They have considered their own circumstances, looked at all the options, and come to the best possible decision that they can make. Once they get here, they deserve support. So please don’t listen to those people, because they aren’t listening to you. Only you know your story, and only you have the right to tell it.”

Clinic escorts are never supposed to say “good morning.” We are taught to never presume anything about the women and men whom we guide into the clinic, including however good or bad their morning is going. I usually ask them if they had trouble finding the clinic or I make a generic comment about the weather. During these raw moments of extreme vulnerability, I would rather that they judge my clichés than focus on the self-righteous hate speech emanating from the protestors. Most of the time, I am able to get them safely from their cars to the front door of the health center with little more than comments about traffic and Google maps. But sometimes it’s not that simple.

On my first day as a clinic escort, I was horrified by the cruel protestors. New to the game as I was, I couldn’t understand how anyone could see a scared woman and feel the need to publicly shame her. Their behavior was appalling. Their humanity was questionable. But for the most of the morning, I did not focus on the fear-mongering extremists. I wanted to help the women and no one else mattered. My selective deafness worked well for most of the day, until a young woman came out of the clinic and went to her car to smoke a cigarette.

She had barely taken her first puff before the anti-choicers surrounded her like demonic soul suckers. A woman with sign covered in doll heads kept saying, “We know the best doctors. You need to see our doctors before you do this.” But the man with the grotesque sign kept yelling, “What’s the real truth? Why are you really doing this to your child?” When I got to the woman’s car I began to understand the impetus behind the protestors screaming. This young woman was shaking and repeatedly telling the protestors her diagnosis. She had visited multiple high risk OBGYNs, and every single one had told her that she wouldn’t survive this pregnancy.

I did the only thing that made sense at the time. I put my body in between her and the determined zealots. When I caught her eye, I was able to calm her down by telling her the reasons why I chose to become a clinic escort. Once she had calmed down enough to speak coherently, she began to tell me her story. She already had a very young son. He was healthy now, but he was very sick when he was born. In fact, the delivery had left her in a coma for a month and her son was in a coma for three months. She loved him so much. So when she found herself pregnant again, she didn’t want an abortion. But her doctors had made it very clear that another pregnancy would kill her. Despite her desire to continue the pregnancy, she couldn’t risk leaving her son motherless.

For the entire time that she bared her soul, the protestors screamed at her. They called her selfish and sadistic. They told her that she was evil. They called her a murderer.

When she finished her cigarette, I walked her back to the clinic doors. On the stairs in front of the clinic, she reached out and squeezed my hand.

Whenever I feel like this work is too much to bear, I remember her. Not because she “needed” me, and not because she was upset. I remember her because during one of the hardest moments of her life, she looked me in the eye and thanked me for my compassion. As if my sympathy was a gift, and not a natural human response. Empathy should be an expectation, not a shock.

I stand with women because caring is still radical.

And if it were me, I couldn’t do it alone.