Reproductive Justice Clinic and Advanced Reproductive Justice Clinic

LW.12261 / LW.12262
Professor Sarah E. Burns
Supervising Attorney Avram Frey
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 each person regardless of that person’s gender, sexuality, reproductive or family circumstance.  For current clinic work, this is achieved primarily through advocacy and litigation on behalf of pregnant women, many of whom are currently the target of extraordinarily punitive strategies.

Course Description

Reproductive justice means more than just reproductive rights. The latter refers to the constellation of doctrines surrounding the rights of women and transgender persons to abortion and contraception. These issues are of course critical to genuine equality, but they inform only a portion of the ambition of this Clinic. Reproductive justice encapsulates a broader concept and list of issues; its mandate is opposition to all uses of policy and regulation that use reproduction as a tool of oppression, whether for reasons of gender, sexuality, race, economic, or other form of discrimination. The goal of reproductive justice in its litigation strategy is preservation of the reproductive sphere as a space of unqualified liberty and equality.  Reproductive justice also encompasses affirmative strategies, not typically litigative, to achieve reproductive equality and fairness which the Clinic’s home, the Carr Center for Reproductive Justice, pursues and to which clinic students are also exposed.


The Clinic receives fieldwork from partnering organizations National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, and the Center for Reproductive Rights and undertakes occasional direct  representation typically,  although not always, in partnership.  Students in the Clinic have the opportunity to work closely with these organizations and to gain insight into their respective working environments.  The Clinic also receives projects from smaller, unaffiliated organizations and individuals, and on occasion, is active in offering assistance in cases of national prominence and importance. Case work is not geographically restricted and may involve State or federal law in any number of jurisdictions.

Fieldwork projects run the gamut from legislative organizing, to media outreach and management, to litigation in either direct services or impact capacities. Most commonly, students will be engaged in litigation practice in either representative suits 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 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 in either habeas corpus or Section 1983 cases.

In its first three semesters of existence, clinic students worked on the following cases in particular, among others.  These cases do not necessarily suggest the precise nature of likely field assignments, but are representative of the diversity of projects in this broad field generally:
  • Section 1983 suit in the Western District of Wisconsin federal court on behalf of plaintiff as co-counsel; in this suit, the Clinic, NAPW, and local counsel represent Plaintiff Tamara Loertscher in an attack on her prosecution under Wisconsin’s “Cocaine Mom” statute for alleged use of drugs and alcohol during her pregnancy; students are actively involved in research and writing on issues of personal and municipal liability for prospective damages claims, and are likely to be employed in strategizing discovery.
  • Habeas corpus suit in Eastern District of Wisconsin federal court on behalf of plaintiff as co-counsel; in this suit, the Clinic, NAPW, and local counsel represented Plaintiff Alicia Beltran in an attack on the same Wisconsin statute, enforcement of which resulted in her involuntary detention in an in-patient drug treatment facility for alleged drug use during pregnancy. Students formed part of the research and drafting core and were responsible for numerous pleadings challenging the constitutionality of the underlying Wisconsin statute. The case drew national attention and was widely reported, including in outlets the New York Times, NPR, Slate, and others.
  • Strategic planning on behalf of private client for rollout of demonstration project to alleviate harms resulting from massive abortion clinic closures. This project is ongoing and highly confidential. Students are legal counsel for private client and undertake all aspects of research and client consultation for creation of specific program.
  • Amicus briefing in the New York State child custody proceedings between Sara McKenna and U.S. Olympic skier Bode Miller; after a New York State Referee declined to take jurisdiction over a child custody proceeding based on a finding that Ms. McKenna had “absconded with the child” for forum-shopping purposes by virtue of relocating to New York from California while pregnant, the Clinic, NAPW, and many others submitted an amicus appellate brief raising issues of statutory construction and constitutional repercussions. The Brief was drafted largely by the Clinic, and helped to procure a reversal in the New York First Department Appellate Court. This case also garnered national news media attention.
  • Appellate research and drafting for a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals brief in a Section 1983 suit alleging constitutional violation in a pregnant prison inmate’s shackling during labor and delivery. This project was undertaken in conjunction with the ACLU.
  • Together with the CRR, students monitored prospective abortion legislation in the American Southwest and researched prospective challenges in the event of passage, focusing on issues of standing.
  • An amicus brief on behalf of 42 social scientists in the case of NAACP v. Horne before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals presenting social science research results demonstrating the concrete harm of group-based stigma in a challenge to dismissal for lack of standing of African-American and Asian-American groups.  Specifically, research results discussed in the brief challenged the finding by the trial court that African-Americans and Asian-Americans suffered no “injury in fact” by the passage of a law based on allegations that they engage in race and gender selective abortion practices which the challenged legislation banned.


Fieldwork is supported and reinforced with 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.


Reproductive justice requires a core understanding of reproduction and related infrastructure of health service delivery and government regulation.  Students will be required to attend regular lectures in the fields of reproductive health and related law topics, as well as participate in a two day conference co-sponsored by the Carr Center for Reproductive Justice on October 29-30, 2015, exploring 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. 

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.  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 previously took the clinic do 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
Spring 2014-15 Clinic Members
Sarah Brafman        
Julia Heald        
Laura Hecht-Felella    
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 fieldwork assignments accordingly.