Brief History of the Center
Founded in 2012, CRRJ was the first research center devoted to reproductive issues to be established in a US law school. Although the Center’s focus encompassed new thinking about the contested question of abortion, its vision, from the outset, was broader. “Reproductive rights scholarship in the United States [essentially came] to mean just Roe v. Wade,” observed Kristin Luker, the Center’s founding Faculty Director. “With our nation mired in a politically charged debate over abortion, larger issues of women’s and family health services have been obscured. I wanted to develop something that advanced a wide range of reproductive justice issues.”
As framed by Jill Adams, the founding Executive Director of CRRJ: “Our guiding principle at CRRJ is that all people deserve the social, financial, political, and legal framework needed to make meaningful choices about reproduction.” These choices encompassed the three basic human rights that had been identified by reproductive justice pioneers – women of color organizing in their communities – since the 1990s: the right to have children, the right not to have children, and the right to parent the children one has with dignity and sustainability.
For CRRJ, pursuing these goals meant analyzing adjudication, legal policy, and other tools as to which legal scholars and social scientists working in a law school setting were knowledgeable; but it also meant engaging with advocates and organizers on the front lines to understand, as Adams explained, “how the laws play out in everyday lives, because reproductive concerns are far-reaching issues that implicate economic justice, racial justice, LGBT rights, and more.”
As founding co-Faculty Director Melissa Murray came on board, and the Center expanded to support the work of two post-doctoral fellows, Zakiya Luna and Yvette Lindgren, CRRJ began to focus on three programmatic initiatives. First, to shift the legal discourse surrounding public funding for abortion: the goal of this shift was to incite the Supreme Court to reconsider Harris v. McRae, a case that upheld the Hyde Amendment, a federal law which prohibited the coverage of abortion through Medicaid. Second, to build a multi-state coalition to generate data, arguments, and tactics to repeal welfare family caps. And third, to provide rapid response research to actors seeking to support or prevent state criminalization of self-managed medication abortion.
Luker and Murray also sought to extend the visibility of the field of within law schools by publishing the first casebook on Reproductive Rights and Justice in 2014 (the third edition of the casebook, edited by Murray and Lindgren, is now being planned). Luker and Luna also published a landmark article elaborating the history and agenda of reproductive justice in the Annual Review of Law and Social Science in 2013.
In the late 2010’s, Executive Director Rachel Johnson-Farias and Faculty Director Khiara Bridges extended the Center’s work to encompass issues of disparate Black maternal mortality, and birthing choice, spotlighting the potential of community-based providers such as midwives and doulas to improve outcomes by providing responsive and culturally competent care. Throughout its work, CRRJ has engaged in many forms of research, education and advocacy including:
- Litigation support – CRRJ authored amicus briefs in cases related to Medicaid coverage of abortion and criminalization of self-managed abortion
- Policy advocacy – CRRJ published non-partisan policy analyses that contributed to the budgetary repeal of California’s welfare family cap in 2016
- Convenings – CRRJ has brought together 1500 activists, academics, students, and community members since 2012
As the decision in Dobbs has prompted greater state surveillance and criminalization of many reproductive choices, and has increased barriers to reproductive health care particularly for persons of color, LGBT communities, and those in rural areas, CRRJ’s agenda has shifted and expanded. The highly disparate patchwork of state laws that is emerging has created a need for creative thinking about law, policy, strategy, and organizing in both restrictive and protective states. But CRRJ’s vision of collaboration, the integration of research and pragmatic application, and a focus on the broad vision of reproductive justice, will continue to inform its interventions moving forward.
Melissa Murray was the founding Faculty Co- Director of the Center.
She is now the Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of
Lawat New York University School of Law.
Zakiya Luna was the founding Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Center. She is now Associate Professor of Sociology and Dean’s Distinguished Professorial Scholar at Washington University in St. Louis.
Yvette Lindgren was the founding Post-Doctoral Legal Fellow at
the Center. She is now Associate Professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, and a Visiting Associate Professor
at UC College of the Law, San Francisco.