Reproductive Justice Clinic

The Reproductive Justice Clinic, which is taught by Professor Sarah Burns, trains students in the legal knowledge and skill required to secure fundamental liberty, justice and equality for each person regardless of gender, sexuality, reproductive or family circumstance. This is achieved primarily through advocacy and litigation, most often but not exclusively on behalf of pregnant women.

Course Description

Reproductive justice describes a world in which all people have the social, political, and economic power and resources to effect healthy decisions about gender, bodies, sexuality, reproduction and families for themselves and their communities. Reproductive justice incorporates but means more than just reproductive rights. Reproductive rights refer to the constellation of legal doctrines surrounding the rights of women and transgender persons to self-determination in their reproductive and family rights, including the right to abortion, contraception, reproductive health care and freedom. 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 to challenge 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 is preservation of the reproductive sphere as a space of unqualified liberty and equality.


The Clinic regularly undertakes fieldwork from or with partnering organizations, including the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project (ACLU), the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW). Students in the Clinic have the opportunity to work closely with these organizations and to gain insight into their respective working environments while also having close supervision of and feedback from the Clinic’s faculty and fellow. The Clinic also accepts projects from smaller, unaffiliated organizations and individuals, and on occasion, is active in offering assistance in other cases of national prominence and importance. Case work is not geographically restricted and may involve State or federal law in any number of U.S. jurisdictions. The Clinic does not currently undertake legal representation internationally.

Fieldwork projects run the gamut from legislative drafting and research, organizing, media outreach and management, to litigation in either direct services or impact capacities. Most commonly, however, 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 while becoming deeply knowledgeable about the field of reproductive justice.

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 jurisprudence in either habeas corpus or Section 1983 cases.

In its first two semesters of existence, the clinic students worked on the following cases in particular:

  • Habeas corpus challenge in Eastern District of Wisconsin federal court on behalf of plaintiff as co- counsel; in this suit, the Clinic, NAPW, and local counsel represented the plaintiff in an attack on 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 drafting numerous pleadings challenging the constitutionality of the underlying Wisconsin child abuse and neglect statute. The case drew national attention and was widely reported, including in the New York Times, NPR, Slate, and others.

  • Amicus briefing on an appeal in the New York State child custody proceedings after a New York State Referee declined to take jurisdiction over a child custody proceeding based on a finding that the petitioner, the mother, had “absconded with the child” while pregnant by relocating to New York from California. The Clinic and NAPW drafted an amicus brief, joined by New York Civil Liberties Union and ten other groups, raising issues of statutory construction and constitutional repercussions. The brief helped to procure a reversal in the New York First Department Appellate Court. This case also garnered national news media attention, including a major New York Times article.

  • 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 ACLU, students monitored prospective abortion legislation in the American Southwest and researched prospective challenges in the event of passage, focusing on issues of standing.

  • The Clinic agreed to research prospective claims coming out of Idaho pertaining to potential conditions of confinement litigation as it relates to the incarceration of a pregnant woman. This effort is ongoing, making disclosure of further details improper at this time.

  • Together with CRR, students worked on litigation, legislation and public education outreach projects relating to the problem of deceptive practices by anti-abortion and anti-contraception pregnancy centers purporting to provide medical referrals to pregnant women but interfering with the woman’s access to services if she was seeking to terminate her pregnancy.

  • With several different partner organizations, students worked on several freedom-of-information act projects to ascertain policy and practice in government health care monitoring and rule-making.


Fieldwork is reinforced with a weekly seminar that provides background education 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 students to reproductive justice issues and legal controversies not covered by the specific fieldwork of the given semester.