Stephanie Toti ’03, Law Women’s Alumna of the Year, discusses the challenges ahead in the fight for reproductive justice

Honored as Law Women’s Alumna of the Year at the group’s annual Alumnae Reception on February 17, Stephanie Toti ’03 reflected on the seismic shift in reproductive rights since 2016, when she won a major abortion rights victory at the US Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The Court’s majority then held that Texas law placed an unconstitutional burden on women’s right to an abortion by requiring ambulatory surgical center standards for abortion clinics and certain admitting privileges for physicians.

Stephanie Toti
Stephanie Toti '03

The decision gave her optimism about the future of abortion rights, Toti recalled. “The Supreme Court held for the first time that abortion restrictions must be supported by record evidence,” she said, adding, “It appeared at the time that the decision would usher in a golden age of reproductive rights in which people across the country could access vital services without having to navigate an obstacle course of arbitrary government restrictions.

“It turns out that the golden age was short lived,” Toti continued, referring to the Court’s 2022 reversal of Roe v. Wade. She added: “Although I have definitely had moments of despair over the past year, I still believe that reproductive justice is possible and that working towards it is a moral imperative.”

Toti is now senior counsel and project director at the Lawyering Project, an organization she founded in 2017 to improve access to reproductive health care in the United States through litigation that advances an intersectional framework. She previously spent 11 years at the Center for Reproductive Rights, moving up from litigation fellow to senior counsel.

Toti discussed the path forward for protecting abortion rights, and suggested that it will entail a mix of federal- and state-level litigation. That approach includes arguing that some state constitutions enshrine more robust reproductive rights guarantees than those that had been found in the US Constitution by Roe v. Wade.

But in the meantime, she said, while organizations exist to provide assistance to those seeking abortion care, many people cannot travel to seek such care, even with financial help. Supporters of reproductive rights, Toti said, should put their “collective energy and resources…[into] figuring out how the most vulnerable people and people in the most vulnerable communities are going to get access to the care that they need.”

Posted March 22, 2023