Jacqueline Tosto (’19) to serve as a reproductive justice fellow in Atlanta at SisterLove Inc.
Two months ago, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country into law, banning the practice after six weeks into a pregnancy. Kemp’s bill, as well as the abortion bills signed in Alabama, Ohio, and a number of other states, pushed reproductive justice to the forefront of national discourse. Now, BU Law alum Jacqueline Tosto (’19) will be working right in the throes of this nation-wide conversation as an If/When/How Reproductive Justice Fellow at Atlanta, Georgia’s SisterLove Inc.
Tosto came to BU Law focused on public interest law. Through the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), she gained fundamental skills for human rights work at an international level. “But then, as our country has kind of shifted I became more interested in domestic human rights work and how [I could] help minorities and poverty-stricken people,” Tosto says. Her work at BU Law reflected this shift in interest; beyond working with the IHRC, Tosto went on to identify procedural errors as a member of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic and fundraise for students pursuing unpaid public interest internships as gala chair of the Public Interest Project.
“I knew that I was privileged coming to law school in the first place so I wanted to do what I could. I took Reproductive Justice with [former] Professor Khiara M. Bridges and I became obsessed.” It was through Bridges that Tosto discovered If/When/How’s fellowship program. Focusing on providing access and resources for women with HIV—similar to work that Tosto had done with the AIDS Action Committee after her first year of law school—the Reproductive Justice Fellowship was a “perfect interplay” of Tosto’s interests and the skills she had gained through various opportunities at BU Law.
While Tosto cites her conversations with BU Law students and professors as some of her most enriching encounters, she ranked her opportunities abroad highly among her most formative experiences. During her second semester at BU Law, Tosto traveled to Geneva to investigate human rights abuses with the IHRC. She went on to intern with KRW Law in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where she focused on criminal defense and post-conflict human rights during the summer after her second year in law school. Tosto’s exposure to Northern Ireland, a country divided by the aftermath of years of civil conflict, taught her how to posture herself in different social and cultural contexts.
“I couldn’t say where I worked a lot of times, I couldn’t align myself with a certain side even though I very much worked with one side over the other… It was interesting, constantly being aware of your surroundings,” Tosto says. “I was able to kind of lie in the background but hear so much about what was going on, which was a unique experience. I hope the same thing will happen in Georgia, where I will know when to say things, when to keep quiet, and when to just learn and listen.”
In addition to the broader perspective Tosto gained through her international experiences, BU Law’s curriculum offered a means of gaining practical skills and knowledge. The International Human Rights and Wrongful Convictions clinics taught her how to interview a client effectively, while courses like Restorative Justice helped her understand the prison system and how to transform our current system of mass incarceration. Overall, Tosto says BU Law encouraged her to think about “how the law can be changed to benefit people who have been underserved by the law, how you can bring your legal knowledge to defend people,” and most importantly, “how to think like a lawyer.”
While Georgia didn’t sign the abortion bill until after Tosto received her fellowship, making her unaware of the national controversy to come, she is excited to be advocating for reproductive justice in the current political climate. “[This is] a horrible situation, but I do feel really lucky and privileged to be a part of it,” she says. “I get to do my part, which is really exciting.” Her work will vary from writing policy papers and attending conferences through If/When/How, to engaging with SisterLove’s clients through more “on the ground work” surrounding reproductive care, legal counsel, and policy concerns.
Tosto will be taking the bar exam before leaving for her fellowship. She hopes to return to New York after the program ends, where she’d like to continue working in the reproductive justice field. “I like the intersection between legal and policy work, which is what the fellowship offers me,” she says. “Certain organizations really give that [opportunity], where you can bring fundamental change on a larger scale. But we’ll see—doing any direct representation would be really great.”
Reported by Ina Joseph (COM’20)
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