Berkeley Law Launches Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice

January 17, 2013

On the eve of the 40-year anniversary of Roe v. Wade, UC Berkeley School of Law today announced the formal launch of its new Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice (CRRJ). Founded by Professor and Pulitzer Prize nominee Kristin Luker, it is one of the first research centers to study the legal, economic, and social impact of reproductive laws on women, families, and communities.

In the four decades since the Supreme Court decided Roe in 1973, a backlash has led to a constitutional right to abortion so laden with restrictions that it has been rendered out of reach for many, said Luker. In the past two years alone, lawmakers across the U.S. have passed a record-breaking 135 new laws restricting abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

“Because of these restrictions and other financial and societal barriers to access, the formal legal right is often not enough for poor, young, and rural women to get the abortion care they need,” said Luker, the author of five books, including Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. With this in mind, CRRJ is supporting a bill to increase access to abortion care in California by expanding the number of healthcare professionals who can provide it.

“As the nation is mired in a politically-charged debate over abortion, larger issues of women’s and family health services have been obscured,” said Luker.

“We’re examining the courts, legislation, and regulations, as well as how the laws play out in everyday lives,” said the center’s Executive Director Jill E. Adams '06. “What is needed for all members of society to obtain access to resources necessary to determine their own destinies related to reproduction?”

The primary reproductive concern for many women and men is the ability to have—and raise—the children they want in safety and dignity. The struggle is particularly difficult for welfare participants in California who are denied aid for a newborn under the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) rule, according to Adams. CRRJ is supporting an effort to repeal the MFG rule, in collaboration with the East Bay Community Law Center and ACCESS Women’s Health Justice, among others. Adams says the rule often interferes with family planning decisions, punishes parents, and hurts children.

Welfare regulations aren’t commonly regarded as reproductive rights issues, but the center is trying to change that. “Part of our work is to impress upon people that these aren’t fringe issues experienced in a vacuum, but widespread experiences that are integral to individual wellbeing and to the realization of economic justice, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, and more,” Adams said.

Luker, Adams, and Berkeley Law Professor Melissa Murray are spearheading a high-profile center project: the first legal textbook on U.S. reproductive rights law—targeted for national publication within two years. “The legal analysis of reproductive rights and justice implicates a host of other issues: from employment discrimination and access to health care, to race and gender inequalities,” Murray said. “A comprehensive textbook will be an invaluable resource for law schools, scholars, and legal practitioners.”

Though many of its projects have an educational purpose, CRRJ is much more than an academic endeavor. “We won’t operate in an ivory tower,” said Luker, whose 1995 book Dubious Conceptions was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

CRRJ seeks to partner with, learn from, and respond to lawmakers seeking effective policy solutions. “We’re aligning ourselves with advocates who grapple with these issues on the ground every day,” said Adams. “Together we will identify problems ripe for research and help policymakers advance real, lasting solutions.”

In October 2013, the center will co-host a national symposium with the Center for Reproductive Rights, a nonprofit New York litigation and advocacy group, to examine the impacts of abortion restrictions from multiple angles and explore innovative approaches to legal advocacy. Related programs include an annual seminar for law and graduate students and a writing workshop for scholars.

Postdoctoral fellow Zakiya Luna leads the center’s working group, a mix of faculty, students, and community members described by Unitarian Universalist Minister Darcy Baxter as “a space where we break down the ‘silo’ culture; an opportunity to collaboratively work through ideas and strategies with people coming from many different fields."

The center’s goal is to fill the gap between traditional policy research and advocacy by fostering dialogue among a diversity of academics, advocates, policy makers, and opinion shapers.