|LW.12261 / LW.12262
Professor Sarah Burns
Professor Sarah Wheeler
Open to 2L and 3L students; LLMs if space is available*
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 persons by virtue of their reproductive status.
Reproductive justice means more than the right to abortion and contraception: it embraces 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 National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW); multiple projects within the ACLU, including the Reproductive Freedom Project (RFP), Women’s Rights Project (WRP), and National Prison Project (NPP); the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), and the New York City Commission on Human Rights, among others.
Students in the Clinic work closely with these organizations and to gain insight into their respective working environments and strategies.
The Clinic also undertakes work on behalf of reproductive justice grassroots membership organizations, reproductive health care workers and researchers and/or individuals targeted for government intervention because of their reproductive status. The Clinic's work is on law- and policy-defining matters of national importance, frequently of national prominence. Case work is not geographically restricted and may involve state or federal law, both constitutional and statutory.
Fieldwork projects run the gamut from legislative organizing, to media outreach and management, to pre-litigation research and assessment, to affirmative 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 in either habeas corpus or Section 1983 cases.
In past semesters, clinic students worked on the following matters, among many others. These projects are representative of the diversity of projects on the Clinic’s roster from time to time:
- 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 represented 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 were 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, and appellate briefing before the Seventh Circuit which resulted in a mootness finding.
Research and draft memoranda and briefs supporting abortion regulation challenges to laws in multiple states on U.S. Constitutional and state law grounds.
Advising city agencies on issues of reproductive rights and justice related to treatment of pregnant and parenting women receiving healthcare in New York City.
- Research and draft memoranda and briefs supporting defense of persons criminally charged for pregnancy or birth outcomes.
Research and work supporting challenges to regulation of families in the name of child protection.
Draft amicus briefs in reproductive rights cases of national importance, including Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt and Zubik v. Burwell, as well as amicus briefs in cases before state and federal appellate courts.
Regularly advise the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project on potential litigation to expand access to abortion, including research that resulted in the filing of a federal case in Maine challenging the state’s law excluding highly trained advanced practice clinicians from providing abortions.
Represented human rights clinics, nonprofits, and law professors 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.
Develop litigation and other advocacy strategies to challenge state criminal and civil child welfare laws that seek to punish women for their conduct during pregnancy.
Investigated the discriminatory enforcement of municipal nuisance ordinances against domestic violence (DV) survivors and low-income communities of color, in collaboration with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Nuisance ordinances penalize landlords when tenants make a certain number of calls to the police or emergency services. These ordinances imperil DV survivors (and vulnerable communities more generally) by undermining their access to stable housing and their right to seek protection and assistance from the police, among other rights.
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 students to reproductive justice issues and legal controversies not covered by the specific fieldwork of the given semester.
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 the Clinic assistant Trena Crockett by phone at 212-998-6448 or via email. Applicant should sign up during the clinic application period to interview with the clinic professors, which is required to complete the application process.
Reproductive Justice Clinic - Advanced – Spring Semester
The Fall 2022 Clinic is usually required in order to take the Spring 2023 Advanced Clinic, but in pre-approved circumstances JD or LL.M. students may apply to the Spring 2023 Advanced Reproductive Justice Clinic without having taken the Fall 2022 Reproductive Justice Clinic. JDs interested in this option should raise it in their application and meeting with the instructors. JDs who have not taken the Fall 2021 or Fall 2022 Clinic will receive an intensive introduction to the Reproductive Justice framework and the Clinic's work at the start of the Spring semester. A demonstrated interest in reproductive justice is particularly valued.
The Advanced clinic involves a 2-credit seminar and an option of 2-3 fieldwork credits (with the default number being 3 credits). The Advanced Clinic will be taught by Professor Sarah Wheeler in Spring 2023. 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 their interest in the Advanced Clinic.
Note for LL.M.s
LL.M. students may apply to the Spring 2023 Reproductive Justice Clinic - Advanced without having taken the Fall 2022 Reproductive Justice Clinic. LL.M. students selected for the Advanced Clinic who have not taken an earlier fall clinic will receive an intensive introduction to the Reproductive Justice framework and the Clinic's work at the start of the Spring semester. Prior work or educational experience involving reproductive rights, health, or justice; anti-discrimination law; or gender justice is helpful but not required.
Interested students should speak to the following current and former clinic students.
2021-22 Clinic Members
2020-21 Clinic Members
* Consult the LLM Clinic Requirements at A Glance page to see if the clinic is available to LLMs in the current year.
** 6 credits include 3 clinical (fieldwork) credits and 3 academic seminar credits.
*** 5 credits include 3 clinical (fieldwork) credits and 2 academic seminar credits. Option to take 2 fieldwork credits is available with permission.