Commentary Law and Policy

The SIA Legal Team and If/When/How Are Merging: ‘This Is Us, but Twice as Strong’

Jill E. Adams & Mariko Miki

Too few legal professionals have been given the opportunity and the training they need to plug into the sexual and reproductive rights, health, and justice movements.

Fifteen years ago, we were both members of two of the first Law Students for Choice chapters in the country. Strangers to one another and to the concept of “lawyering for reproductive justice,” we had little idea that one day we’d be drawn together to serve the reproductive justice movement as advocates, organizers, and leaders of a new kind of legal organization—one that marries movement-building with cutting-edge legal and policy strategies.

Today we’re elated to celebrate a merger, years in the making, between the two organizations we’ve come to lead. Today the SIA Legal Team and If/When/How are uniting to form one powerhouse group ready to lawyer for reproductive justice harder than ever. We know that reproductive justice doesn’t just happen. As a united force, our expanded, relaunched organization will transform the law and policy landscape through advocacy, support, and organizing so all people have the power to determine if, when, and how to define, create, and sustain families with dignity and to actualize sexual and reproductive well-being on their own terms.

We’ll be operating under the If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice banner and bringing our tagline “lawyering for reproductive justice” to life. The SIA Legal Team and If/When/How have already served as key organizing hubs for legal professionals and law students in the movement. We’ve built reputations for ourselves as kickass legal eagles with an unwavering commitment to reproductive justice. This is us, but twice as strong.

Over a year ago, as two organizations on the rise with our biggest staffs, most robust programming, and most ambitious plans to date, we asked ourselves: Why stop there? Why not dream even bigger? We have ample capacity in this troubling climate to answer a critical call to action, and we know we’ll be fiercer advocates by combining our resources, expanding our national networks, and growing our ranks. We recognize that lawyers and law students often possess privilege, wealth, influence, and authority that—when cultivated thoughtfully, brought to bear on oppressive systems, and offered in service to community—can and will help to achieve reproductive justice.

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Just as lawyers have flocked to airports and detention centers to support communities targeted by the Trump administration’s abusive policies, we know our fellow social justice-minded lawyers are eager to leverage their skills, knowledge, and privilege to shield people against the blows of reproductive oppression. But too few legal professionals have been given the opportunity and the training they need to plug into the sexual and reproductive rights, health, and justice movements. And many legal organizations and professional networks have often operated too cautiously, even as conservatives have ramped up attacks on communities of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants and their families, and so many more.

In response, we’re creating a clearinghouse and a political home for everyday lawyers who are eager to contribute to this field in a hands-on way. We’re not just preaching to our (powerful, beautiful!) choir—we’re growing the movement. Rather than unleashing untrained attorneys onto the masses, we will train, educate, and organize the members of the If/When/How community in an intersectional analysis of the issues, giving them the tools they need to be the best advocates they can be.

And our dreams are big; we’re going after some of the most egregious forms of reproductive oppression and barriers to reproductive freedom. With a combined staff of 15 lawyers, organizers, and advocates, If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice will focus on five strategic initiatives where we believe we can be most transformative: decriminalizing self-managed and supported non-clinical abortion; improving young people’s abortion access; securing public insurance coverage of abortion; enhancing birth options and experiences; and increasing support for families using public benefits.

We’ll activate five modalities to address these key issue areas: advocacy, litigation, research, training, and organizing. That might mean bringing suit against states that prosecute people for self-managed abortion under unconstitutional laws; providing continuing legal education trainings and practical resources for attorneys representing youth in judicial bypass proceedings; working with state coalitions to eliminate welfare family caps; publishing scholarship that challenges Harris v. McRae and the Hyde Amendment; and mobilizing lawyers and legal organizations to sign on to statements of support for midwifery licensure.

None of this means pulling back on the powerful existing programs that the SIA Legal Team and If/When/How have built our respective reputations on, such as SLT’s fierce advocacy work on self-managed abortion and the repro legal helpline, or If/When/How’s law school campus organizing and Reproductive Justice Fellowship Program. These programs will continue with added capacity and only be enhanced by the combined expertise and people power of both organizations.

The time to unite is now. While many of us—between our staffs and among members and allies of our organizations—have been part of the fight for reproductive rights and justice for years and even decades, the dire political situation has prompted us to take an honest look at ourselves and ask whether we’re doing absolutely everything we can to defend against the forces of tyranny and to create and expand systems that actually serve and support the communities we stand with, and which we are a part of. We believe that by coming together, we’ll be able to maximize our ability to effect change as the expanded and evolved If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice.

Put simply, If/When/How is entering a season of “Yes, and.” We invite you to learn more and get engaged by joining our network. We hope that by the time current 1L members of law school campus chapters are themselves 15 years into their own careers, the law and policy landscape will be unrecognizable from its current form, because the legal systems and institutions that perpetuate oppression will have transformed into structures that realize justice. By working together, we believe we’ll be able to put bigger, bolder changes in motion as the expanded If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, and with a growing nationwide network that is many thousands strong, we can help achieve a future when all people can self-determine their reproductive lives—free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

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