Think back to your high school, college or even law school courses: How often did you talk or learn about reproductive rights in America? Probably not enough. This is why University of California Berkeley Law professors Kristin Luker and Melissa Murray have co-authored the first reproductive rights textbooks for law school students: Cases on Reproductive Rights and Justice. It only took about 42 years after Roe v. Wade to get here.
Published this February by Foundation Press, Cases on Reproductive Rights and Justice is considered the first official casebook on laws and legal discourse about state regulation of reproductive health — everything from abortion to female sexuality to family rights. The academic publisher describes the textbook as a way for law students to get a full, comprehensive look at the way legislation affects the bodies and lives of women in the United States:
This compilation of rich historical and contemporary primary and secondary materials...considers the economic, political, legal, and social factors that influence procreation and parenting. It is attentive to questions of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and ability. Given that reproductive rights are implicated by different bodies of law, the casebook and teacher’s manual will serve as guides to help balance expertise in one particular area of the law and enable well-rounded engagement with various issues.
Writing in RH Reality Check, Jill E. Adams, founding executive director of the Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice at UC Berkeley School of Law, calls the textbook a revolutionary way to "fill the gap in existing educational materials, define the parameters of the field, and upend the conventional treatment of the topics" of reproductive justice.
[T]he legal textbook legitimizes reproductive rights and justice as an area of scholarly inquiry, subject of study, and field of professional practice. Of course, far more students will take these courses than will forge careers in this practice area. Nevertheless, it’s beneficial for lawyers pursuing a range of professional paths to understand reproductive issues so they can recognize them and know how to respond when related situations arise for their clients in their paid and pro-bono work.
Despite the amount of attention reproductive rights gets in statehouses, state legislatures, and federal courts across the United States, there's still a huge dearth in reproductive rights courses in American law schools. According to a 2014 report from Law Students for Reproductive Justice, just 46 of the 201 law schools surveyed — around 23 percent — have offered courses on reproductive rights since 2003. In the 2014-2015 school year, there are just 17 reproductive rights courses being offered at these law schools — a rather pitiful number considering the high rate of abortion rights legislation being introduced in state legislatures.But there's hope in education the next generation of reproductive rights lawyers and advocates. The LSRJ has noted a notable push in reproductive rights courses and training in law schools, writing:
Since its inception in 2003, LSRJ has supported over 100 individual chapters in their pursuit of RRLJ [reproductive rights law and justice] courses, assisting law students in identifying appropriate instructors, mobilizing on-campus support, and effectively petitioning their administrations for new curricular offerings.
Along with the Cases on Reproductive Rights and Justice textbook, this could be a turning point for reproductive rights legal discourse in America.Images: Getty Images