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