BU Law to Launch Program on Reproductive Justice
Available in fall 2023, the program will foster student interest and facilitate career opportunities in reproductive justice and adjacent fields.
When Jacqueline Tosto accepted an If/When/How Reproductive Justice Fellowship at Atlanta’s SisterLove Inc. after her graduation in 2019, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp had just signed an abortion bill banning the procedure six weeks into a pregnancy. At the time, it was one of the most restrictive bills in the country. Other states—including Alabama and Ohio—were pursuing similar efforts, pushing reproductive justice to the forefront of national discourse, but Roe was still very much intact.
“I knew that I was privileged coming to law school in the first place so I wanted to do what I could,” she says. She had taken a reproductive justice class and “became obsessed.” The If/When/How fellowship program, which focused on providing access and resources for women with HIV, was a “perfect interplay” of Tosto’s interests and the skills she had gained through various opportunities at BU Law.
The landscape of abortion access has changed significantly since Tosto’s graduation, but through a new BU Program on Reproductive Justice (BUPRJ) offered by BU Law in partnership with schools and centers across the University, even more students will have sustained access to educational and career opportunities in this critical field. Aziza Ahmed, BU Law professor and R. Gordon Butler Scholar in International Law, Linda C. McClain, BU Law Robert Kent Professor, and Nicole Huberfeld, BU Law professor and Edward R. Utley Professor of Health Law at the BU School of Public Health, led the effort to establish the program, which will be available to students starting in fall 2023.
Since Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022) returned the regulation of abortion to state control, a patchwork of new bills have emerged across the country seeking to restrict access to abortion services and limit access to services in other states. The lack of clarity in the language and enforcement of such laws has led some medical providers to delay or deny treatment of common pregnancy-related conditions, such as ectopic pregnancies and incomplete miscarriages, out of fear that they may be charged with facilitating an abortion.
This crisis requires a sustained, multidisciplinary focus on reproductive justice and health. The Program on Reproductive Justice will create a home to work on these issues across BU, in the community, and beyond.
“Dobbs created a complex crisis for people who are or could become pregnant, as well as the providers who care for them,” says Linda McClain. “This crisis requires a sustained, multidisciplinary focus on reproductive justice and health. The Program on Reproductive Justice will create a home to work on these issues across BU, in the community, and beyond.” Those issues extend beyond abortion to include control over the timing of pregnancy; healthy pregnancies, births, and newborns; fertility; cancer and other medical treatment that include abortion within the standard of care; and medications that have become inaccessible due to clinicians’ fear that the individual could be pregnant.
The BUPRJ will take advantage of faculty expertise at the law school, the School of Public Health, and other schools and centers across the University to offer students a broad range of courses in reproductive justice and related fields—including constitutional law, access to justice, health law, family law, immigration law, and race and law—as well as expanded experiential and research opportunities. The program will foster student interest in reproductive justice and facilitate career opportunities through networking and mentoring events with BU Law alumni and other practitioners in the field.
“BU has deep multidisciplinary strength that offers a foundation for linkages on questions of reproductive rights and justice across the campus, and BU School of Law is uniquely situated to become the home for a new program that fosters concrete efforts to advance reproductive justice,” Aziza Ahmed says.
The program was announced at an event, After Roe and Dobbs: Seeking Reproductive Justice in the Next Fifty Years, cosponsored by BU Law and the BU School of Public Health (SPH). BU Law alumni Margaret Daley (’87), vice president at Charles River Associates, and Deborah Barnard (’87), professional growth and development partner at Holland & Knight, have made the first-ever gift to the Reproductive Justice Program Fund, which will support the development of the program, including student internships and externships, curriculum development, workshops, and more.
“Students at BU Law and SPH have shown strong interest in reproductive health, rights, and justice,” Nicole Huberfeld says. “Alumni also have done significant work in reproductive justice and adjacent areas. BUPRJ would help to nourish student interest through creating a reproductive justice concentration, deepening available course work, expanding experiential opportunities such as internships and externships, facilitating student research projects, supporting student organizations, connecting students with alums who could help to mentor them, and expanding opportunities for post-graduation public interest fellowships in the field.”
“The uncertainty of this moment calls for reflection, conversation, and action, and scholars and students at BU Law intend to be part of this new phase in the movement for reproductive rights,” Dean Angela Onwuachi-Willig says. “A new generation of lawyers who are equipped to advocate for reproductive rights at the federal, state, and local levels will be critical as we work back toward national protections for reproductive rights.”