Reproductive Rights Law & Justice Courses on the Rise but Only Available at 1 in 5 U.S. Law Schools

This post is written by Mariko Miki, Director of Academic & Professional Programs, Law Students for Reproductive Justice

The debate over reproductive rights –especially abortion rights— continues to dominate the political, legal, and social landscape in the U.S.  At the federal level, Congress recently attempted to defund Planned Parenthood, and abortion and contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act remains embattled. At the state level, between January and July 2011 alone, legislatures in 19 states passed 80 laws restricting abortion access; in no other year between 1985 and 2011 have states enacted so many restrictions. With the 2012 presidential election looming, women’s health will once again become a hot-button issue.

Reproductive rights are on everyone’s mind, but how many politicians, policy makers, and judges actually understand the complex interplay of privacy and equality jurisprudence with social issues such as poverty, education, and lack of access to health care? Not many, as the new Course Survey conducted by Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) reveals. Although many of the country’s leaders are trained as lawyers, very few have had formal education in reproductive rights law & justice.

Only one in five American Bar Association-approved law schools have offered a course in reproductive rights law & justice during the last eight years. All in all, 39 law schools have offered just 51 classes focused on issues like abortion, reproduction, and sexual rights since 2003.  This means that most law school graduates never have the opportunity to delve deeply into reproductive rights jurisprudence, let alone have the chance to explore how issues of contraception, IVF, family formation, birthing rights, infant and maternal mortality, welfare caps, drug policy, rape, and domestic violence intersect under a Reproductive Justice framework.

The causes for the lack of reproductive rights law & justice courses vary: the subject matter is not yet fully accepted as a integral part of legal curricula; no reproductive rights case law text book currently exists for professors to teach with; some scholars believe that seminal cases like Roe v. Wade were erroneously decided; and some law school administrations are hostile to the subject matter or unconvinced of the student demand.

Since 2003, LSRJ has worked to overcome these obstacles to help students organize and campaign for reproductive rights law & justice courses to be taught on their campuses. So far, 31% of all reproductive rights law & justice courses taught in the last eight years have resulted from student advocacy through LSRJ chapter campaigns. Also encouraging, 27 unique courses were offered during the 2010-11 academic year, the highest number of offerings during any academic year to date and almost three times as many as the previous year. Finally, seven of the top ten law schools in the U.S. have offered courses in reproductive rights law & justice.

While the recent upsurge in course offerings marks a growing trend welcomed by scholars, students, and advocates who support these critical learning opportunities, there is still a long way to go before reproductive rights law & justice issues are integrated into mainstream legal curricula.  The vast majority of law schools still lack a reproductive rights law & justice course. LSRJ continues to combat this dearth of opportunities by leading the charge for more courses through the Course Campaign Working Group and by providing supplemental educational materials to students and instructors. To learn about how to get involved in establishing a course at your law school, please contact info@LSRJ.org.

For more about the importance of educating and training tomorrow’s lawyers about reproductive rights law & justice, see Defending Your Rights? Study Finds Few Law Schools Offer Training in Reproductive Justice on RH Reality Check.  For a law student’s perspective on successfully campaigning for a reproductive rights law & justice course, read Campaigning for an RJ Course: The Student Perspective on LSRJ’s blog, Repossess Reproductive Rights.


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