NYU Law establishes Carr Center for Reproductive Justice

Avram Frey '08, Richard Revesz, Sarah Burns, Beth Nash, Trevor Morrison, Carol Gilligan, and Todd Lang.

The Carr Center for Reproductive Justice has begun operation at the Law School. Focused on reproductive justice issues in the United States, the center includes the new Reproductive Justice Clinic, taught by Professor of Clinical Law Sarah Burns. The Carr Center also houses a clinical fellow and three post-graduate fellowships, and will present an annual conference.

Beth Nash, a motivating force in the center’s formation, has long felt that reproductive justice has not been given adequate attention or resources. Four years ago, she conceived of the program for post-graduate fellows to move into the field through work with advocacy organizations. But Nash, who has ties to the Law School and has done research in the area, felt that more was needed to redress the imbalance between the demand for and significance of work in the area of reproductive rights and the attention and resources being allocated towards it. She also noted a dearth of necessary scholarship in this area, compounded by the difficulty that reproductive justice issues arise across an array of domains addressed by different legal disciplines. With these challenges in mind, Nash pushed for the center’s creation. Its name is derived from the names of several individuals who served as role models to Nash and who emphasized the value of new ideas and new thinking as well as respect and positive intention to every individual.

The advisory board of the center includes Nash; Burns (who will also serve as faculty director); Weil, Gotschal & Manges partner Todd Lang; University Professor Carol Gilligan; Dean Trevor Morrison; and Lawrence King Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus Richard Revesz. “Beth’s dedication to reproductive justice, and her vision for having a unified effort dedicated to research, instruction, and advocacy in this area, brought the Carr Center into being, and it is a tremendous addition to the Law School’s public service offerings,” says Revesz, who worked with Nash to form the center before he stepped down as dean in May. “I’m thrilled that the Carr Center will allow a group of faculty, students, and fellows to give intense focus to this developing area of the law, and I look forward to following their work,” says Morrison.

NYU Law has long had faculty who have been active in reproductive rights. Sylvia Law ’68, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law, Medicine and Psychiatry, was a pioneering scholar in the area and has served as a mentor to many NYU Law graduates who now work in the field. Through the Carr Center and Reproductive Justice Clinic, NYU Law students and fellows will be engaging in on-the-ground advocacy as part of their education. With Burns at the helm, the center and clinic have a seasoned leader, with a long record as a scholar and practitioner in civil rights. “Reproductive justice requires a willingness to address the social, economic, and political conditions that make it impossible for so many people to attain reproductive health and exercise individual reproductive rights,” says Burns. “The direct assault on fundamental rights most often occurs at the intersections of race, socioeconomic status, and gender. As a result, we will have close engagement with the diverse communities directly affected as we strengthen and ultimately go beyond prevailing strategies to build a body of law that ensures reproductive justice for all.”

The inaugural Carr Center Fellow, Avram Frey ’08, is working with Burns as the supervising attorney for the clinic. Following graduation from NYU Law in 2008, Frey clerked for U.S. District Court Judge John Nixon, and then joined the State Office of Post-Conviction Defenders in Nashville, Tennessee. Frey recalls his own time as a student in the Equal Justice Initiative Clinic as one of the most formative experiences of his law school career, and says he is excited to return to work in NYU Law’s clinical program.

“The students I know who have taken clinics found that to be one of the highlights of their law school experience,” Frey says. “I hope our students’ work lets them pursue their values, learn about this important area of law and meet the challenges of legal practice. If so, the clinic will ground them as practicing lawyers and prepare them for leadership in the profession.”

Burns, Frey, and the students in the clinic have already been hard at work on many matters with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW). With these partners, the clinic is currently investigating various aspects of federal reproductive health care policy and is working on the pretrial and trial of a case in the Fourth Circuit on remand, among other projects. “We treasure the opportunity to team with the extraordinary organizations and professionals working in this field, gain from their expertise, and help advance their work,” says Burns.

While most clinic projects are still in the early stages, a few have been rolled out and one case, filed in federal court in Wisconsin, has already garnered  front-page coverage in the New York Times, as well as on NBCNews.com and Wisconsin Public Radio.

The clinic also recently filed a 56-page amicus brief with NAPW and on behalf of the NYCLU, NOW New York State and 9 other organizations in the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division First Department. The case involves a jurisdictional issue under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) that raises questions about the status of pregnant women and the definition of the word “child” in state and federal law. At issue is which state, New York or California, is the proper one to determine custody of a baby who was born in New York, but whose father lives in California. Under the UCCJEA, jurisdiction would ordinarily lie with “the home state,” in this case where the baby was born. The case drew the attention of the amici curiae because the referee rejected the home-state priority, deciding instead that California should have jurisdiction in part because the mother, by changing her residence to New York while she was pregnant, had engaged in “unjustifiable conduct”—tantamount to abducting a child.

The first annual conference sponsored by the Carr Center will take place in April 1, 2014, with the working topic: “Reproductive Rights Law: Where is the Woman?” University Professor Carol Gilligan will be the keynote speaker.

Posted on October 30, 2013