Sterilization for Freedom: Coerced Contraception for Reduced Sentences

The semester’s first Gender & the Law Lunch & Learn, Sterilization for Freedom: Coerced Contraception for Reduced Sentences was hosted on September 20 in partnership with If/When/How and Lambda Law Society.

The event centered on reproductive rights and the justice system’s encroachment on them. Joining for this intimate lunchtime panel were:

  • Professor Brenda Smith, WCL professor and Co-Director of WCL Community Economic Development Law Clinic [Moderator]
  • Deborah A. Reid, Senior Health Policy Attorney, Legal Action Center
  • Amber Khan, Senior Staff Attorney, National Advocates for Pregnant Women

The discussion began with an overview of reproductive justice and the criminalization of substance abuse disorder and pregnancy. While the public often conflates reproductive health with contraception and abortion, this panel asserted the affirmative right of fertility choices.

When approaching the criminal justice system, it is important be aware that more than half of those incarcerated who have mental illness also have a history of substance abuse and that women of color have a higher likelihood of being involved in the system for a drug offense, according to Deborah Reid. This is a symptom of a paternalistic attitude towards women and people of color that are driving these issues, as well as the idea that substance abuse is a “moral failing” rather than a disease or a symptom of a mental health concern.

Pregnancy changes this framework. Amber Khan mentioned, for example, that past drug use is not actually illegal in the majority of the United States. However, if a person is accused of past drug use and they are pregnant, a question arises of whether this behavior should be considered child abuse.

Often, the court will use the sentencing phase to constrain a person’s reproductive rights; as a result, certain populations are punished and their reproductive freedoms are stifled. There is the sentiment that this type of person should not parent, and their children should be taken from them. Amber Khan provided the example of a Wisconsin man who was charged for missing child support payments; one of his probation conditions was that he would not be allowed to father additional children until he could prove that he could financially support them. The court determined here that his reproductive rights were not absolute and were subject to interference with “good reason.”

This event was incredibly moving and informative! A huge thanks to our panelists for providing this unique insight to our students. Stay tuned for new events this semester by checking out our calendar.

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Women in Law: IP Edition!

On September 17, the Women and the Law Program and the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property hosted Women in Law: IP Edition.  This panel included a group of prominent women in the Intellectual Property space:

  • Brighton Springer, Attorney, Office of the General Counsel at the Department of Energy in the Tech Transfer and Intellectual Property section [Moderator]
  • Sarah Harris, General Counsel, USPTO
  • Camille Stewart, Consultant (Cybersecurity & Privacy), Deloitte and Security Fellow, Truman National Security Project
  • Suzanne Michel, Senior Patent Counsel, Google
  • Jessica Flores, Associate (IP – Patents, Nuclear & Electrical Power Plant Technologies), Foley & Lardner, LLP

Our panelists discussed working in the sector and tips for being successful within this space.  Students were advised on the importance of being open to technologies and having a willingness to grapple with new and difficult issues.  When entering IP, a burgeoning lawyer should seek mentors and volunteer for any opportunity available; many of our panelists voiced how this can be instrumental to a successful career.

Nuances between the public and private sector were addressed, and our panelists gave advice on the best ways to approach employment in both.  When looking for employment in the sector, it is important to be adaptable, as it is a dynamic environment.  Camille Stewart found it important to ask a lot of questions before entering into a new position in order to have realistic expectations of what will need to be done.  This is important because environments may vary, whether it is due to hierarchy or the type of clients that are taken on.

The public sector is ideal for those interested in policy work and advocating for how IP law should evolve.  When working in the government, it can be “a great feeling [because you] wear the white hat and feel like [you are] finding the right answers for the public interest,” according to Suzanne Michel.  This type of advocacy can be integral for encouraging innovation and protecting new invention.

Sarah Harris told students that a stark difference between the two is the efficiency found in the private sector, as it is driven by profit and law.  While in the private sector, there is always a question of risk, how much a strategy may cost, which does not necessarily exist in the government.

This in part due to that fact that work in the private sector is centered on representation of a client, rather than working in the public interest.  Because of this, the panelists agreed that a lawyer must look at the big picture of what is the client trying to accomplish, and where it makes sense to complete certain filings and how these costs differ by location.  For those interested in working for a firm focusing on IP abroad, Jessica Flores recommended first researching the percentages of domestic versus international work that a firm completes.

We are so grateful to our panelists for joining us!

Women in Politics Panel: Campaigning and Serving in Office

On September 6th, the Program on Law and Government, the Women and the Law Program, and the Women’s Law Association hosted a panel on Women in Politics: Campaigning and Serving in Office in the Year of the Woman.

This year has been called “the year of the woman” because of the record number of female candidates running for office at all levels, as well as the role of women as voters and donors. This year witnessed the impetus driving increased political participation, including women’s movements like the Women’s March 1 and 2, and the prominence of movements like #metoo and #timesup. Joining as panelists to discuss and provide insights on campaigning and serving in the year of the woman were Hon. Donna F. Edwards (D-MD), Hon. Eileen Filler-Corn (WCL ’93, D-VA), and Ambassador Connie Morella (R-MD).

Ambassador Connie Morella stated that “having women at the top—it makes a difference as you look down.” Similar to Ambassador Morella, each speaker emphasized the importance of choosing language that demonstrates respect and caring for one’s constituents and their needs; this is particularly vital given recent changes in public policy. In addition to this respect for constituents, a public servant “need[s] a purpose, a reason for getting involved, need[s] to like people, need[s] a passion, need[s] a plan,” according to Ambassador Morella.

In the Year of the Woman, Rep. Filler-Corn stressed that it was particularly important to “focus on the issues [because] your own identity is just one part of why you are in politics; remember what brought you there.” When campaigning and serving in office, it is imperative to continually focus on the issues most important to one’s constituents and to ensure continued advocacy for these issues.

Rep. Donna Edwards told students in attendance, “even on the bad days, it’s a good day. Public service is great. It’s not the big stuff that you do or the things that people pay attention to, but it’s the smaller moments. Politics can make a difference in people’s lives. It’s not about the debate but the ways that you can affect people’s lives.”

At the end of the session, the floor was open for students to ask the panelists questions. WCL 1L student, Eliza Collins asked, “We have seen a lot of diversity in the candidates across the United States in the upcoming primary elections, including women, minorities, and LGBT candidates—what has been done to promote diversity for those working behind the scenes on campaigns?” Each panelist gave an enthusiastic response to this question. The promotion of diversity in campaigns includes hiring campaign and legislative staff from diverse backgrounds, as well as tapping into local organizations’ resources to encourage diverse participation in campaigns.

Our panelists were incredibly inspiring and we hope to see more WCL women graduates become politicians!

Many thanks to our wonderful panelists, Hon. Donna F. Edwards (D-MD), Hon. Eileen Filler-Corn (WCL ’93, D-VA), and Ambassador Connie Morella (R-MD) for joining. A big thank you to participating WCL students and faculty! We look forward to seeing WCL students at our other exciting events this fall!

Welcome back WCL!

As always, the first week back to WCL was filled with wonderful events for students to meet faculty and learn about the many opportunities to get involved within the school and the community. On August 27th, the Women and the Law Program held a reception to welcome incoming and returning students, faculty, and staff. This reception is the first in a jam-packed semester of exciting events that the Women and the Law Program will host!

Our program Director, Ann Shalleck and our Associate Director, Daniela Kraiem, introduced the many projects related to gender and the faculty in attendance who are committed to incorporating a gendered lens into their syllabi and classrooms. WCL is rich with professors who are passionate about gender justice in their research, advocacy, and coursework, as well as in the broader legal community. Students are not only able to explore these passions in the classroom, but also have access to numerous extracurricular opportunities to contribute to this important work, including in WCL’s Clinical Program, pro bono opportunities, research assistant positions, and events on campus.

Numerous student organizations joined the Women and the Law Program to welcome incoming students and discuss the various ways they can get involved with gender issues around campus. Thank you Women’s Law Association, If/When/How, Lambda, Family Law Society, and Journal on Gender, Social Policy and the Law for joining us!

Later that week on August 30th, we also screened the documentary RBG, which explores the incredible life and accomplishments of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or the “notorious RBG,” as she has been fondly labeled. Over 85 students and faculty came to enjoy the documentary, while munching on nachos, candy, and popcorn. A special thanks to the Women’s Law Association and the Office of Student Affairs for serving up the popcorn!

The RBG screening was a hit and we can’t wait to meet more WCL students this semester! Thank you to everyone who participated in and attended our “Welcome Back” events! Keep your eye out for our upcoming programming!

Distinguished WCL Alumni Working at Planned Parenthood

 

The Women and the Law Program is proud to highlight three WCL alumni currently working at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Brynn Weinstein, Marya Torrez and Rachel Sussman are all doing critical work alongside Planned Parenthood to advocate for sexual and reproductive health rights and provide quality health care, as well as empower individuals to make their own, well-informed, decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives.

Brynn Weinstein, a 2012 WCL graduate, currently serves as the Director of Health Center Regulatory Strategy at Planned Parenthood.  In this role, she provides guidance to Planned Parenthood affiliates preparing for and responding to TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws and regulations. She also assists affiliates in efforts to mitigate the impact of enacted TRAP restrictions on health center operations.

In addition to working directly with Planned Parenthood affiliates, Brynn works on larger strategic efforts to create, implement, and advance national measures addressing operational barriers to abortion access caused by restrictive legal environments and/or opposition tactics.

WCL graduate Rachel Sussman is the National Director of State Policy and Advocacy at Planned Parenthood. In this role, Rachel leads the organization’s efforts to promote policies at the state level to expand access to sexual and reproductive health, while defeating attacks that seek to undermine access to basic health care services. With over 12 years of experience, Rachel provides expertise on state-level abortion policy and has been instrumental in developing communication efforts and strategic initiatives key to Planned Parenthood’s mission of ensuring that access to abortion remain safe and legal. Under her leadership, Planned Parenthood has expanded its engagement with State Legislators, Attorneys General, and key state partners.

Marya Torrez, a 2014 graduate of WCL’s LL.M program, is currently the Director of Public Policy at Planned Parenthood where she is part of the Government Relations team. Marya oversees a team focused on analysis and response to federal policies implicating sexual and reproductive health.

Alongside analyzing and responding to federal policies, Marya develops and executes cross-departmental plans and strategies for responding to administrative actions that threaten reproductive and sexual health access and care and impact the communities that Planned Parenthood health centers serve. In addition to her work with Planned Parenthood, we are excited to have Marya back at WCL as an Adjunct Associate Professor teaching Reproduction and the Law.

It is inspiring to see all that our alumni are doing to ensure every individual receives quality health care and the opportunity to make informed and independent decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health. Marya, Rachel and Brynn, through their efforts to expand access to health care, are a powerful example of the influential work WCL alumni are doing every day around the country.

Reproductive Justice Lawyering Webinar: Centering Sex Workers’ Rights in Reproductive Justice Work

Our annual Reproductive Justice Lawyering Webinar Series concluded today with a conversation on sex work decriminalization. Rebecca Wang of the Positive Women’s Network began her presentation titled “Let’s Talk About Sex Work Decriminalization” arguing that one of the fundamental issues in centering sex workers’ rights in reproductive justice work is that legislation often conflates human trafficking and sex work to the detriment of sex workers. She quoted the Sex Workers Outreach Project’s definition of human trafficking as “an egregious human rights violation involving the threat or use of force, abduction, deception, or other forms of coercion for the purpose of exploitation.” Rebecca noted that ‘sex work’ is an umbrella term used to describe an array of consensual transactions between adults.

The World Health Organization explains that “criminalization of sex work contributes to an environment in which violence against sex workers is tolerated, leaving them less likely to be protected from it.”[1] Sex work criminalization has disastrous effects on sex worker’s bodily autonomy, freedom from violence and control, access to support services and resources, economic justice, and more. These are all core values of reproductive justice. Examples of these kinds of violations, Rebecca explains, include condom-carrying policies which allow police to confiscate condoms from those assumed to be involved in sex work, preventing people from maintaining bodily autonomy and practicing healthier sex. The most prominent recent anti-trafficking legislation is SESTA/FOSTA which changed the long-standing ‘safe harbor rule’. Many online platforms are being closed due to this legislation, meaning sex workers are forced to go back on the streets, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to arrests, violence and control by pimps, and diminishes their ability to access legal services advertised on websites. Rebecca discussed ways in which people can get involved, including centering sex workers’ voices in policy development, working to lift travel bans currently in place for those who have been charged with sex work-related crimes, pushing for harm reduction policies, and most importantly, recognize sex work as work. To learn more and gain helpful resources, visit Survivors Against SESTA, Sex Workers Outreach Project, BaySWAN and St. James Infirmary.

Fajer Saeed Ebrahim from Legal Voice and SURGE Reproductive Justice then presented on “Sex Work Decriminalization: The Case of Washington State.” Fajer stated a grim statistic that shows “sex workers homicide rate is 17 times that of the general population.” She explained that one main reason for this is the criminalization of sex work, which drives sex workers underground and gives them less bargaining power. Fajer further discussed how sex workers face harassment and criminalization through many seemingly unrelated laws, noting the importance of looking at the unintended, as well as the intended, negative consequences various legislation has had on sex workers. She highlighted the significance of pushing for legislation that looks to the economic injustice that sex workers face, including access to safe housing and banking. One of the most dire issues sex workers encounter is a hesitation to call 911 for fear of being charged with prostitution-related crimes. Fajer discussed that immunity laws, similar to immunity laws Washington State has in place for victims of drug overdoses, are key to ensuring sex workers and those around them are able to call for help without fear of prosecution. The Coalition for Rights and Safety, an organization doing critical work for the rights of sex workers, looks to tackle issues of safe access to medical and police assistance, police policy reform, HIV exposure and transmission laws, and legislation dealing with homelessness and ending encampment sweeps. The coalition’s members are great resources and include API Chaya, Church of Harm Reduction, Legal Voice, Sexual Violence Legal Services, SWOP Seattle; a full list of members can be found here: http://www.rightsandsafety.org/about/members/.

Thank you to our incredible speakers, If/When/How, and all who attended! 1 CLE credit can still be applied for as requested ($55). For CLE credit or to request a fee waiver, email: Office of Special Events & Continuing Legal Education at secle@wcl.american.edu.

[1] WHO “Violence against sex workers and HIV prevention” Information Bulletin Series, Number 3 (2005).

Reproductive Justice Lawyering Webinar: Punitive Policies: How New Public Charge and Medicaid Work Requirements Undermine Reproductive Justice

Our fifth annual Reproductive Justice Lawyering Webinar Series in collaboration with If/When/How kicked off last Wednesday with a discussion on “Punitive Policies: How New Public Charge and Medicaid Work Requirements Undermine Reproductive Justice.” Sawyeh Esmaili, Reproductive Justice Fellow at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, offered insights into the expected impact that the Trump administration’s proposed Public Charge Rule would likely have on immigrants and their families. Sawyeh started by describing which individuals have been deemed to be a ‘public charge,’ explaining that the determination is used for “immigrants likely to become primarily dependent on the government for financial and material support.” The Trump administration’s proposed Public Charge Rule would broaden the scope of who is deemed a ‘public charge,’ thus spreading the detrimental effects the status carries with it. These effects on immigrants include hindering reunification with family members and limiting access to health care services, food and housing.  As Sawyeh mentioned, an estimated eight million citizen children with immigrant parents could be affected by the proposed rule, with certain consequences being felt already as immigrants have begun disenrolling from programs such as Head Start, SNAP and CHIP before the rule has even been publicly proposed or enacted. Sawyeh discussed a few options for those who want to become involved, including plugging into the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign and commenting on the proposed Public Charge Rule if and when it is posted to the Federal Register.

Kelsey Grimes, Reproductive Justice Fellow at Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity discussed another key area of recent policy debate affecting reproductive justice. Kelsey explained that Medicaid work requirements influence an individual’s access to reproductive healthcare because Medicaid is a large provider of reproductive healthcare. Kelsey mentioned that Medicaid is used in about half of all births in the U.S. She further explained that the framework of Medicaid work requirements not only limit individuals’ access to reproductive healthcare but also have a disproportionate effect on healthcare access for low-wage workers, young people, black people living primarily in urban areas and, most of all, low-income women of color. It is notable that a recent study by CFBP showed that, in addition to the many consequences of Medicaid work requirements, they have not actually succeed in increasing employment. Kelsey suggested, especially for law students, getting involved by tracking Medicaid work requirements here and writing comments when the rule drops to both voice your opinion and help build cases for legislation.

Thank you to our amazing speakers for discussing these incredibly important and pressing issues!

We hope you will all join us this week for a discussion entitled “Centering Sex Worker’s Rights in Reproductive Justice Work.” Registration is free but required here. 1 CLE credit will be applied for as requested ($55). For CLE credit, email: Office of Special Events & Continuing Legal Education at secle@wcl.american.edu.