Jennifer Dalven '95
Jennifer Dalven is the deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. At the ACLU, where she has worked since 1997, she works on an array of constitutional litigation, including challenges to laws restricting teens’ access to abortion, bans on abortion procedures, and laws that restrict Medicaid coverage for abortions. Most recently, she argued Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, a challenge to New Hampshire’s restrictions on teens’ access to abortion, before the United States Supreme Court. In that case, the Court agreed with Dalven that the law was unconstitutional because it lacked an exception for circumstances in which the teen’s health was in danger; however, the Court sent the case back to the lower courts for them to consider whether it was necessary to strike down the entire law because of the missing exception.
Prior to joining the ACLU, Dalven served as a law clerk for Judge Pierre N. Leval of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and was an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
Interview with Alumnus/Alumna of the Month
Jennifer Dalven '95
What is your area of specialization and how did you come to practice in this area?
I have specialized in reproductive rights since joining the ACLU in 1997. Since my high school days, when I worked at a family planning clinic, I have had a strong interest in helping people effectuate their decisions about whether and when to become parents.
You were the lead attorney for the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, Ayotte vs. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. Can you tell us about the case and why the outcome had such significant ramifications for reproductive rights?
The case was a challenge to a New Hampshire law that restricted teens’ access to abortion until 48 hours after a parent was notified. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood challenged the law on behalf of a physician and several health care facilities, because the law lacked an exception for emergencies where delay would threaten the teen’s health.
The Supreme Court reiterated its long-standing principle that abortion restrictions must include protections for women’s health and affirmed the lower court rulings that the New Hampshire law was unconstitutional because it lacked an exception; however, the Court sent the case back to the lower courts to determine how best to remedy the violation.
By authorizing courts to fix unconstitutional laws, the Court gave the green light to politicians to pass abortion restrictions that fail to protect women. Before Ayotte, legislatures across the country understood that if they passed abortion restrictions that failed to include protections for women’s health, for example, courts would likely strike down the entire law. In light of Ayotte, courts considering challenges to abortion restrictions may decide to declare only part of the law unconstitutional and leave the rest of the law standing. The Court’s ruling in Ayotte effectively lets legislatures off the hook. They can pass dangerous laws that lack protections for women’s health, forcing women and their doctors to bring legal challenges and leaving it to courts to fix unconstitutional measures.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
When we are successful, it has a real impact on people’s lives. It means that women and families who aren’t ready to add a child to their lives aren’t forced to do so by government policies.
What drives you to be such a strong advocate for reproductive freedom?
Two things: First, a love and respect for children and the adults they grow up to be. I believe that every child deserves to be raised in a loving home by people who are ready to take on the demanding job of parenting. Second, I believe that women and their partners must have the ability to decide when and whether to become parents. As the Supreme Court said in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, “[t]he ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”
What was your first job out of law school and what was the most important thing you learned while there?
I had the good fortune to clerk for Judge Pierre Leval on the Second Circuit. As an appellate clerk, you read so many briefs that you gain real insights into what makes an effective brief.
How do you balance work and life?
If you could choose another profession to be in, what would it be?
Luckily, I passed the bar, because my other talents are few.
What advice would you give to current students?
It sounds obvious, but I would advise students to try to find work that they enjoy and find satisfying. I don’t believe that people should stay in a job they don’t like just because the job looks good on their resume or leaving will close doors.