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Reproductive Rights and Justice Stories

A new volume in the Law Stories series has arrived in the O’Quinn Law Library, making a timely contribution to an especially newsworthy legal topic: reproductive rights and justice. Reproductive Rights and Justice Stories, edited by Melissa Murray, Katherine Shaw, and Reva B. Siegel brings together important cases involving the state regulation of sex, childbearing, and parenting. The twelve cases featured in the book, some famous and others unknown, range in topic from contraception and abortion to pregnancy and parenthood. The field of reproductive rights and justice is relatively new, but the book’s framework highlights the “intersecting relations of race, class, sexuality, and sex that shape the regulation of reproduction.”

Reproductive Rights and Justice Stories demonstrates a different approach to the Law Stories series, concentrating not just on individual litigants and their attorneys, but the various social institutions that play a role in how laws change and unfold. By situating the litigation histories in a larger social field, readers are shown the interplay of top-down and bottom-up forces that provoke and shape judicial decisions. The authors recognize in the introduction that the publication of this work comes at a pivotal moment as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy retires and is replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, a change that will shape how reproductive justice is treated in our highest court. What the authors may not have anticipated are the numerous state laws passed in 2019. Alabama’s new law bans all abortion from the time a “woman [is] known to be pregnant” – with no exceptions. Five states - Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana - have passed bills which prohibit abortion after about six weeks - before many people even realize they are pregnant. Reproductive Rights and Stories examines both the social and judicial forces and rulings that have led to these draconian laws.

The book’s contributors offer fascinating stories and new perspectives from both famous (Roe v. Wade) and largely unknown cases (Struck v. Secretary of Defense), presented in chronological order to demonstrate the ebbs and flow of social and judicial change. One chapter, discussing Harris v. McRay, by Khiara M. Bridges is especially gripping. This chapter tells the story of the 1980 decision that upheld the Hyde Amendment (a funding restriction that prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funds for abortions in most cases). Bridges elegantly weaves the stories of the poor women of color who would most bear the burdens of the amendment with the story of the Burger Court’s precedents that led lawyers challenging the Hyde Amendment to minimize the Amendment’s disproportionate impact on these women. This demonstration of attorneys shaping their argument to fit an inhospitable doctrinal landscape, and the consequences and outcomes of those choices is valuable for law students and attorneys today to consider as they make their own advocacy decisions. The struggle against the Hyde Amendment continues today and attitudes toward the amendment have become a bellwether question for Democratic candidates competing for the 2020 presidential election.

Stories like those told in the Harris v. McRay chapter highlight core truths about reproductive rights and justice in America and the inequities that may result in people of a different sex, race, or class having less than equal protection under the law. Reproductive Rights and Stories is an essential for any library, and essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand the continuing social and judicial movements that seek to govern a woman’s autonomy, body, and health.


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