Law Students for Reproductive Justice
During her three years at Stanford Law School, Cari Sietstra found the curriculum greatly lacking courses pertaining to reproductive rights, law, and policy and found this as a common problem in a vast majority of law schools. In 2003, shortly after graduating, Sietstra set out to change this in schools nationwide so future students would have better access to these courses. The initiative quickly gained traction and became known as Law Students for Choice until 2007 when the name was changed to Law Students for Reproductive Justice in order to reflect their broad focus on many issues, including the criminalization of pregnant drug users, LGBTQ rights, immigration, and many more.
The term Reproductive Justice was first coined in the 1990s. It is a movement founded by women of color who wanted to delineate a set of ideals encompassing a myriad of issues in the justice system. These women understood that if someone lacks the resources necessary to make decisions about their reproductive lives, the “right” to choose does not actually exist for that person. The ability to have (or not have) children, the right to bodily autonomy, and the need for equal representation of all genders in the law are just a few examples of the issues confronted by Reproductive Justice.
Recently, Reproductive Justice has become more prevalent to the public’s eye with controversies in the news such as the closing of Planned Parenthood clinics, employers’ coverage of birth control, and schools’ sex education programs. With this growing awareness comes a demand for lawyers who acutely understand this area of the law, and LSRJ is working to train and mobilize these future advocates.
Enriching the Curriculum
LSRJ examined all 205 ABA accredited law schools  in the nation and found that only 46 had provided Reproductive Justice courses from 2003-2015 . Through this survey , they found that many professors’ hesitation to teach these courses stemmed from a lack of a published text and existing curricula. In 2007, LSRJ’s headquarters’ staff convened with a number of scholars to begin compiling research to publish a casebook on Reproductive Rights and Justice, working to find cases and examples beyond those sparsely examined at the time. They also formed model curricula for instructors to use as templates.
After years of work the organization then handed their copious research over to Melissa Murray and Kristin Luker, accomplished professors as Berkley School of Law. Professors Murray and Luker used their experience to formulate a final casebook and submit it for publication. In late 2014 Cases on Reproductive Justice , the first of its kind, was published through Foundation Press and became available to students, teachers, and lawyers everywhere.
“We played an integral part in that story,” says Sabrina Andrus, Executive Director.
Each year, LSRJ holds a Leadership Institute convening known as the “Justice Doesn’t Just Happen.” Held in different cities yearly, the institute is described by Andrus as unique “in that the focus is on how to organize on law school campuses.” The gathering emphasizes building a community on campuses, spreading the word of LSRJ, and teaching chapter leaders how to develop and sustain their chapter’s membership for longevity.
University of Wisconsin Law School LSRJ chapter leader Kristin Martin tells us of her experience with the annual leadership conference: “It was an incredibly eye-opening meeting for me and it inspired many of the events we [UW LSRJ] are holding this year,” such as a new feminine hygiene products drive for homeless women. Martin also cited her new connections to the national headquarters and other chapter leaders as an advantage of the conference.
These connections are an invaluable aspect to building a strong community within LSRJ, and they illustrate Argosy’s commitment to funding convening efforts. “The funding we get from Argosy is instrumental in making sure that we actually get the leaders […] that may not get the chance to connect with other chapters in their area,” Andrus says.
Working for the Future
LSRJ offers many different fellowships to recent graduates, and will also help them find placements at allied organizations. The first initiative they established was a fellowship associated with federal policy. Each year for this program, they place 6-8 new graduates with various organizations based in Washington, D.C, such as the National LGBTQ Task Force and The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. The fellows are provided a stipend for their dedicated work during a year-long placement that will help them develop their professional skills, provide hands-on training, and equip them with valuable networking in the domain of Reproductive Justice, and the organizations benefit from this legal capacity that can often be absent otherwise.
In 2014, this program was expanded to include two fellowships at organizations working at the intersection of Reproductive Justice and HIV (SisterLove in Atlanta and Positive Women’s Network in Oakland.) More and more students are graduating with a firm recognition of the Reproductive Justice framework and can combine this with an understanding of HIV issues in order to help other organizations strengthen themselves.
Taking the Next Steps
Looking to the future, LSRJ continues to advance their mission. In August 2016 a new fellowship program will begin, this one being state-based. This is an important development for LSRJ and exemplifies their efforts to develop new paths for the future of Reproductive Justice. For those involved, state-based fellowships can offer a wider range of work for new attorneys and increases likelihood that recent graduates will be able to work in their own communities. Andrus states that “state-based policies sometimes have a more immediate effect or impact on a community,” especially in regards to sex education in schools and opening local sexual health clinics. Working with communities close to home can be very rewarding to lawyers, and affords them significant experience working with law in specific locations rather than overarching federal policies. This pilot program will place a Fellow in Pittsburgh, PA (with the Women’s Law Project and New Voices for RJ) and Seattle, WA (with Legal Voice and Surge NW).
New resources for chapter leaders are also being developed, including event templates and various pro-bono projects that chapters can undertake to face a new kind of challenge – such as rallying to open sexual health clinics on campuses.
These resources are boundlessly useful to members. Amy Bailey, LSRJ chapter leader of Loyola Law School of Los Angeles, is already seeing a difference on her campus. “We’ve been consistently growing,” says Amy, “we have 43 members this year,” doubling the 20 members in 2014.
And Anne Keyworth, president and founder of North Carolina Central University’s chapter, finds her experience establishing the chapter to be exceptionally beneficial. Keyworth says that through building a community and collaborating with other groups, such as the Environmental Law Society, she is preparing for her future as an attorney. “This experience will help me immensely when it comes to teamwork and working on building something up from the ground.”
With Reproductive Justice being commonly overlooked in law schools, LSRJ’s efforts are more important now than ever. Mobilizing experienced lawyers is the first step to instituting more classes, gaining more recognition, and paving the road to a future where Reproductive Justice attorneys are as available as those specializing in environmental or business law. Argosy continues to support LSRJ and their endeavors in moving towards a higher quality of life for women and men around the country.
For more information on LSRJ, allied organizations, and resources used by chapters, see the links below.
LSRJ’s Fellowship and Internship Webpage:
LSRJ’s Student Resources Webpage: