|LW.12261 / LW.12262
Professor Sarah E. Burns
Professor Julie Ehrlich (Fall)
Professor Sarah Wheeler (Spring)
Supervising Attorney Alyson Zureick
Open to 2L, 3L and LLM students
Maximum of 12 students
|Reproductive Justice Clinic (Fall) 6 credits*
Advanced (Spring) 5 credits**
No pre or co-requisites. Constitutional Law strongly recommended; 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.
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 fairness.
The Clinic receives fieldwork from partnering organizations, including the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project (RFP), the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), 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. 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 have been involved in briefing at all stages of the case, including summary judgment briefing filed during the Fall 2016 semester, which resulted in a victory for the Clinic’s client in May 2017. This case garnered substantial Wisconsin state coverage as well as national coverage through RH RealityCheck and Slate reporting. The case is currently on appeal before the Seventh Circuit.
- Amicus brief on behalf of National Advocates for Pregnant Women and allied organizations to the United States Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the challenge to the Texas abortion regulations. This brief documented the criminalization and increasingly intrusive regulation of pregnancy.
- Amicus brief on behalf of National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and allied organizations in the seven consolidated cases under the lead case name of Zubik v. Burwell, involving religious non-profits’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) challenges to the government’s accommodation allowing them to avoid providing contraceptive coverage in their employee and student health plans providing they sign a form or notify the government. The brief documented the burdens on and costs to the employees of the objecting religious non-profits if their RFRA lawsuits interfered with employees’ (or students”) seamless receipt of the ACA guaranteed no-cost contraceptives.
- Conducted legal and political research to advise the ACLU RFP on potential challenges to laws prohibiting highly qualified advanced practice clinicians from providing abortion services, resulting in the filing of a case in federal district court in Maine challenging that state’s physician-only abortion law.
- Developed and implemented factual investigation strategies around a range of reproductive rights issues on behalf of partner organizations, including pregnant women’s medical confidentiality and access to reproductive health services in state prisons.
- Represented human rights clinics, nonprofits, and law professors as lead counsel in an amicus brief to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in a case challenging the application of El Salvador’s complete criminal abortion ban to women and girls from poor and marginalized backgrounds who were prosecuted for illegal abortion or homicide for experiencing a miscarriage or obstetric emergency.
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 that are foundational to the fieldwork and careers in this field.
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.
The Reproductive Justice Clinic also welcomes LL.M. enrollments. The application period for LL.M. students will take place in june 2018. (Please note there is a separate application form for LL.M. students.)
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 2-3 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.
Interested students should speak to the following current and former clinic students.
|2017-18 Clinic Members
Jacqueline K Matyszczyk
|2016-17 Clinic Members
* 6 credits include 3 clinical (fieldwork) credits and 3 academic seminar credits.
** 5 credits include 3 clinical (fieldwork) credits and 2 academic seminar credits.