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.

Reproductive Justice Lawyering Webinar Series Kickoff

Our annual webinar series in collaboration with If/When/How is kicking off with two webinars on June 13th and June 20th. The first webinar will feature speakers Sawyeh Esmaili from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and Kelsey Grimes from Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity. On the agenda will be a discussion of Trump’s proposed Public Charge Rule; a draft proposal which would put many immigrants at risk of being deemed a “public charge” if they receive a broad range of federal benefits. This proposed rule would not only lead to immigrants who lawfully receive these benefits being barred from becoming permanent residents but would also likely cause large numbers of immigrants and their children to forgo benefits or tax credits for which they are eligible to receive. This likely decline in enrolment, in programs such as Medicaid and SNAP, will have profound effects on pregnant women and children who deserve equal and easy access to the health care and nutritional benefits provided by these programs.

Our webinar on June 20th will include a presentation by Rebecca Wang of the Positive Women’s Network and Fajer Saeed Ebrahim from Legal Voice and SURGE Reproductive Justice. This webinar will explore the question: How can sex workers attain reproductive and sexual rights, safety, dignity, and economic security in the age of #metoo, the Women’s March, and anti-sex trafficking crackdowns? The two presenters will also explore how sex workers’ voices are all too often excluded from women’s movements and how a more inclusive approach could lead to more autonomy and safety for all women.

Registration is free but required here and here. 1 CLE credit will 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.

Stay Tuned for Our Upcoming Reproductive Justice Lawyering Webinar Series!

The Women and the Law Program is excited to announce that we will be continuing our Reproductive Justice Lawyering Webinar Series this summer. This series is part of an ongoing collaboration between the Women and the Law Program and If-When-How with the aim of engaging practicing attorneys with new concepts and developments in reproductive justice advocacy. The series will begin again in June; in the meantime, please keep an eye out for a schedule of specific webinar dates which will be posted shortly.

Skadden Women of Washington

This past Thursday, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, a law firm specializing in a range of corporate law matters, hosted a panel discussion with female attorneys on how they got to where they are today. Panelists Alexandra Arango, a 2015 WCL alumni, Jenna Godfrey, a 2011 WCL alumni, and 2014 Georgetown Law alumni Jennifer Gindin, discussed different employment opportunities that were crucial in assisting them in their journey to big law. To this point, Panelist Jenna Godfrey emphasized the importance of taking every opportunity you are presented with and seeing each as a learning experience. In addition, the attorneys advocated for striking a healthy work-life balance by prioritizing the activities that are most important to you, finding and utilizing mentor relationships and ensuring any prospective place of employment provides a culture and atmosphere that fits your personality.

Thank you to our panelists for this insightful conversation!

Sustainability in the Legal Profession

According to Sweeney in “The Female Lawyer in Exodus,” despite earning about half of the legal degrees in this country, women lawyers continue to leave the profession in droves later on in life. Women in the legal profession are likely to earn less than their male peers, be given less visible and less challenging case assignments, and to experience sexual harassment at work. Research conducted by the ABA and others indicates a number of factors the hinder opportunities for sustainability in the legal profession for women, including “unconscious stereotypes, inadequate access to support networks, inflexible workplace structures, sexual harassment, and bias in the justice system.”

Today, speakers Becca O’Connor, Vice President of Public Policy at RAINN, and Manar Morales, President & CEO of the Diversity and Flexibility Alliance, joined us to discuss effective strategies to promote self-care and avoid burnout in the commonly high-stress careers that follow law school. Panelists spoke to the helpfulness of finding and cultivating a mentor relationship, learning how to navigate hostile workplace environments and how best to angle for the assignments you want and that will strengthen you in your position. Specifically, panelists suggested getting a feel for the work environment at any potential organization or firm before accepting a position with them. In addition, they stressed the importance of speaking up for yourself, both in situations where you want to ensure you are getting more, and more meaningful, assignments and in situations where you need support or need to adjust your schedule. The panelists also emphasized the significance of the impact within the legal community of the #metoo movement. They reassured the audience that while sexual harassment remains rampant in the legal profession, we are not alone and we can speak out and get help. O’Connor and Morales both emphasized using connections, conversations, and time effectively and strategically to ensure long-term professional success no matter what area of law you pursue.

Thank you to our incredible panelists for this pertinent discussion!