Reproductive Justice Clinic and Advanced Reproductive Justice Clinic

LW.12261 / LW.12262
Professor Sarah E. Burns
Professor Julie Ehrlich
Open to 2L and 3L students
Maximum of 16 students
Reproductive Justice Clinic (Fall); Advanced (Spring)
7 credits*
No pre or co-requisites. Constitutional Law, criminal procedure, and federal courts recommended


The purpose of this clinic is to train students in the legal knowledge and skill required to secure fundamental liberty, justice and equality for  people across their reproductive lives, with a particular focus on pregnancy and birth.  For current clinic work, this is achieved primarily through advocacy and litigation around legal or policy frameworks restricting the autonomy and undermining the equality of pregnant, parenting, and birthing women; or, punishing women by virtue of their reproductive status.

Course Description

Reproductive justice means more than the right to abortion and contraception:   it encapsulates a broader concept, opposing the use of reproduction—and, in particular, of pregnancy and parenting status—as a tool of oppression. The goal of reproductive justice is to preserve and expand the reproductive sphere as a space of unqualified liberty and equality.  Reproductive justice encompasses both affirmative and reactive litigation and non-litigation strategies to achieve reproductive equality and fairnessd.


The Clinic receives fieldwork from partnering organizations , the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project (RFP),  the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), and National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), among others, and undertakes occasional direct representation, typically in partnership with other attorneys.  Students in the Clinic have the opportunity to work closely with these organizations and to gain insight into their respective working environments and strategies.  The Clinic also receives projects from smaller, unaffiliated organizations and individuals, and on occasion offers assistance in cases of national prominence and importance. Case work is not geographically restricted and may involve state or federal law.

Fieldwork projects run the gamut from legislative organizing, to media outreach and management, to litigation in either direct services or impact capacities, and either representing a party to the litigation or as amicus curiae. All students will have significant exposure to legal research and writing and can expect to see real development and personal attention to their growth in these areas.

The substantive content of fieldwork assignments will depend on the circumstances of particular cases. Elements of civil and criminal procedure and evidence are common, as are constitutional doctrines under the Bill of Rights. Students will also likely engage in statutory interpretation and argument, and may work with federal court issues of procedure and justiciability issues in either habeas corpus or Section 1983 cases.

In past semesters, clinic students worked on the following matters, among many others.  These cases are representative of the diversity of projects in this broad field generally:

  • Section 1983 suit in the Western District of Wisconsin as co-counsel on behalf of plaintiff. In this suit, the Clinic, NAPW, and local counsel represent Tamara Loertscher in a constitutional challenge to Wisconsin’s “Cocaine Mom” statute, under which she was prosecuted for alleged use of drugs and alcohol during her pregnancy. Students were actively involved in research and writing on issues of personal and municipal liability for prospective damages claims; the case is continuing and Clinic students are likely to be employed in strategizing discovery, as well as drafting further written submissions to the court. This case garnered substantial Wisconsin state coverage as well as national coverage through RH RealityCheck and Slate reporting.
  • Habeas corpus suit in the Eastern District of Wisconsin as co-counsel on behalf of plaintiff. In this suit, the Clinic, NAPW, and local counsel represented Plaintiff Alicia Beltran in an attack on the same Wisconsin “Cocaine mom” statute, enforcement of which resulted in her involuntary detention during her pregnancy in an in-patient drug treatment facility for alleged drug use while pregnant. Students performed research and drafting of core pleadings. The case drew national attention and was widely reported, including in the New York Times, NPR, Slate, and others.
  • Strategic planning, research, and client consultation for a private client in connection with a non-litigation project to alleviate harms resulting from widespread abortion clinic closures. This project is ongoing and highly confidential.
  • Amicus briefing in the New York State child custody proceedings between Sara McKenna and U.S. Olympic skier Bode Miller. In an appeal from a New York State Referee’s decision declining New York “home state” subject matter jurisdiction where the child was born and had always lived, holding that Ms. McKenna had engaged in “reprehensible and irresponsible” by relocating to New York from California while she was pregnant. The Clinic, NAPW, and many others submitted an amicus brief raising statutory and constitutional issues. Clinic students were primarily responsible for drafting the brief, which helped to procure the appellate court’s reversal of the referee. This case also garnered national news media attention.
  • Legal research and drafting of a contemplated appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in a Section 1983 suit alleging that the shackling of a pregnant prisoner during labor and delivery violated her constitutional rights. This project was undertaken in conjunction with the ACLU RFP.
  • Together with the CRR, monitoring prospective abortion legislation in the American southwest and researching prospective challenges in the event of passage. The students’ legal research focused on issues of standing.
  • Amicus briefing on behalf of 42 social scientists in  an appeal from the dismissal for lack of standing of African-American and Asian-American groups challenging an Arizona statute prohibiting abortions for “sex and race selection.” The brief, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, presented social science research demonstrating the concrete harm of group-based stigma—contrary to the trial court’s finding that the Arizona law did not injure the plaintiff groups.


Fieldwork is supported and reinforced by a weekly seminar that provides background education in litigation practice and project-specific support.  Students learn about and weigh-in on one another’s specific projects with an emphasis on goals and strategy.  The Clinic also uses the seminar period to expose student to reproductive justice issues and legal controversies not covered by the lecture/conference series or specific fieldwork of the given semester.

Lectures and Conferences

Reproductive justice requires a core understanding of reproduction and related infrastructure of health service delivery and government regulation.  Students who take the lecture credit are required to attend regular lectures in the fields of reproductive health and related law topics, as well as to participate in a conference at the Law School co-sponsored by the Center for Reproductive Rights on October 30, 2015. This conference will explore  issues of health law regulation, constitutional rights and interpretation and medical ethics critical to the field. Credits are awarded for attendance. The purpose of the lectures is to provide grounding in basic knowledge.  Subjects are likely to include methods of contraception and abortion from scientific and public health perspectives; the effects or lack thereof of drugs and alcohol on fetal development, and optimal treatment regimens for pregnant women suffering from issues of addiction; organizing in the field across barriers of ethnicity, religious affiliation, citizenship status, and economic position; reproductive justice in the workforce; and others.  Conference participation is designed to enrich students’ understanding of the field through talks by experts in areas that represent the leading edge of reproductive justice policy and litigation issues and doctrinal development. Students who do not take the lecture credits, as well as other students, attorneys and interested public, will be welcome to attend the lectures and conference.  Attorneys may receive CLE credit. The lectures and conference will be videotaped so for-credit participants can participate in the event of a schedule conflict.

Application Procedure

Students who are interested in applying should submit the standard application, resume and transcript online via CAMS. Applicants should submit as lengthy a response to Question 4 of the standard application as they feel necessary and should ignore the 300-word limit. If you have any questions regarding the application process, please contact Mr. Ray Ivey at 212-998-6474 or via email. Applicants will be contacted by Mr. Ivey during the clinic application period with instructions concerning a face-to-face meeting with Professor Burns required to complete the application process.

Advanced Reproductive Justice Clinic – Spring Semester

Students who have completed the Reproductive Justice Clinic are eligible to take the Advanced Clinic in the spring. This will involve a 2-credit seminar and an option of 1-3 fieldwork credits (with the default number being 3 credits).  Students applying to the Reproductive Justice Clinic who are interested in a year-long experience are strongly urged to state this in their initial application to the clinic so their commitment to and interest in year-long work can be considered and accommodated in the admission process. Students who took the Reproductive Justice Clinic in a previous academic year qualify for the Advanced Clinic and should submit an application to the Clinic stating that their interest is in the Advanced Clinic.

Student Contacts

Interested students should speak to the following current and former clinic students.

2013-14 Clinic Members
Elizabeth Buechner
Katherine Deabler
Danielle DeBold
Laura Ferro
Erin Gallagher
Carolin Guentert
Emily Juneau
Caitlin Kelly
Marcella Kocolatos
Margaret Marron
Katherine Mitchell
Amy Nemetz
Sarah Schuster
Amy Wolfe
Alyson Zureick

2014-15 Clinic Members
Sarah Brafman        
Julia Heald        
Laura Hecht-Felella 
Emily Juneau  
Sam Kubek        
Viviana Puchi        
Katie Riley        
Emily Scherker        
Adrienne Warrell

* 7 credits include 3 clinical (fieldwork) credits, 2 academic seminar credits, and 2 lecture attendance credits for the semester. Students interested in participating in the clinic but who require a lower credit load to meet other graduation requirements are encouraged to apply, as it may be possible to modify lecture credit or fieldwork assignments accordingly.