Reproductive Justice Slowly Growing In Law Schools

Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) recently finished their multi-year study to determine the availability of classes offered in national law schools that specifically focus on reproductive rights and justice. They found that out of 177 law schools who participated in the survey (out of 197 J.D. granting law schools accredited by the American Bar Association) that only 32 offer reproductive rights courses. Though the classes are available in 17 states and the District of Columbia, it boils down to the fact that 82% of law schools in the U.S. do not yet have a reproductive rights law & justice course in their course catalog.

It’s a mixed bag of results. On one hand, the good news is that from 2003 to 2010 (the length of the study) that the reproductive rights course offerings are slowly but steadily increasing. Three-quarters of the courses were introduced since 2008. Perhaps there is growing interest in this discipline? On the other hand, many of these courses have only been offered once which suggests a possible lack of interest as measured via registration. According to Catalyst.org, 44% of the 2008-09 class were women. Not that being a woman makes you automatically committed to reproductive rights but it could increase the potential for increased interest.

The study excludes courses that cover reproductive health issues under a broader context, for example if the class only covers these issues in one or two sessions, and eliminates those that deal with bioethics or assisted reproductive technologies (ART) since those classes tend to be taught from a biological and philosophical perspective rather than focusing on constitutional law, human rights or critical theory.

While the stats may seem disappointing, we cannot discount the important efforts of LSRJ since more than one-third of known classes have resulted from advocacy by LSRJ chapters. With this as a starting point, the community can figure out how to maintain momentum in the schools where these classes already exist, and how to create opportunities in schools with no reproductive justice curriculum. Also, how do we cultivate enough interest in reproductive rights that these classes would be well-received? How can we ensure this is seen as a viable career choice? It seems like within the movement there is an increasing need for lawyers to work specifically in support of the reproductive justice movement as we see more battles over “personhood,” inflammatory rhetoric (see anti-choice billboards in Atlanta), and vicious attacks against providers.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted December 3, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    LSRJ has engaged in a number of strategies to support the increased visibility and positive reception of reproductive justice in law school education, such as an annual writing prize supporting innovative student scholarship in the field. Another strategy for student activists is to engage with peer communities on campus such as health law groups, student of color groups, and progressive student organizations such as the National Lawyers Guild and the American Constitution Society which often have broad membership on many law school campuses and whose interests intersect meaningfully with reproductive rights. Collaborating with these allies on events helps demonstrate the universal relevance of reproductive justice not just to students, but to law professors as well. Constitutional law, health law and policy, and civil rights courses are also an excellent venue to pipe up about repro rights even if the syllabus is not specifically dedicated to these issues. The key throughout is to keep groups like LSRJ and their allies active and visible in and out of the law school classroom.

  2. Posted December 3, 2010 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for posting this! It is extremely important as law students that we take action and demand our schools to provide classes that allow us to analyze reproductive rights through a reproductive justice lens. Many mainstream constitutional law classes do create space for a discussion on how our law has failed to give women–especially low-income women who are disproportionately women of color–choice. Further, a discussion of choice only in the context of abortion ignores the reality of many individuals who are denied the right to have children or parent the children they already have, such as women in prison, LGBTQ individuals, and women on welfare. Thank you Law Students for Reproductive Justice for conducting this survey–hopefully more students can use this report to advocate for courses on their campuses–that way as advocates, law students will be better prepared to support the broader reproductive justice movement!

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