Reversing Roe v. Wade Won’t Help Republicans

Posted on July 6th, 2018 by Elizabeth Boylan

Reversing Roe v. Wade Won’t Help Republicans

Overturning the landmark 1973 ruling, as seems more and more likely, might take away a powerful tool for energizing conservative voters — and it might motivate liberal ones.

by Carol Sanger
Originally Published in The New York Times, July 5, 2018

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Overturning Roe? Watch what you wish for, Republicans.

The imagined implications of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s resignation for the future of legal abortion have brought visions of long-awaited sugar plums to anti-abortion politicians and activists. In 2016, candidate Trump pledged to appoint anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court, saying that two or three such appointments would mean the end of Roe v. WadeNext week, we get the name of President Trump’s second pick. Trump’s anti-abortion supporters — including his evangelical advisers, the National Right to Life Committee, Americans United for Life, the Susan B. Anthony List, and most significantly,the Republican Party — are now confident that it is just a matter of time until Roe is overturned.

Yet the celebration around Roe’s demise seems premature, if not downright dangerous for the Republican Party. For starters, there is muted recognition that even under a Supreme Court populated by conservative Trump appointees, Roe v. Wade may not be overturned. This is because judges of all leanings are guided not only by their views on specific issues but also by foundational jurisprudential principles. These include stare decisis, which holds that unless there is a very strong reason for overturning a prior decision, that decision should stand as the rule for similar cases in the future. Early in our history, Americans rejected the idea of courts swaying to whatever political breeze blew in at election time.Citizens should be able to rely on the durability of constitutional law no matter who is in office.

Indeed, the last big challenge to Roe was decided on the basis of stare decisis. In 1992, conservative-leaning justices refused to overturn Roe in a case called Planned Parenthood v. Casey. They explained that although they might have voted against Roe had they been on the Court in 1973, they would not vote to overturn it 20 years later. They found that nothing in the law had changed in the interim to justify overturning Roe. In fact, the court held quite the opposite, noting that an entire generation of “people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.” This kind of social reliance might be even more weighty two generations after Roe.

But let’s assume, as both the left and the right seem to do, that of the nine justices, five of them can see their way clear to overturning Roe. How could that be bad news for Republicans? Since the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan brought the anti-abortion movement into the Republican tent, a coalition of Republicans and evangelicals has focused on abortion generally and Roe in particular, as the super fuel that energizes the right. The ongoing Republican commitment to eliminating legal abortion by overturning Roe was evident in the 2016 election. Then, 70 percent of conservative voters said that the issue of Supreme Court appointments was very important to how they planned to vote, more than any other group. Small wonder then that President Trump said in a speech before the Susan B. Anthony List in May, “Now, for the first time since Roe v. Wade, America has a pro-life president, a pro-life vice-president, a pro-life House of Representatives, and 25 pro-life Republican state capitols.” From this perspective, what’s not to like about Roe’s reversal?

Counterintuitively perhaps, there are quite a few things. Getting rid of Roe would deprive the far right of one of its most crowd-pleasing, rabble-rousing, go-to issues. After all, there is plenty to dislikenabout abortion, if one is so inclined: the assumed sexual promiscuity of careless women and disobedient girls; the view that abortion is murder; and the power Roe gave to women by liberating them from their traditional place in the home. Roe bashing is a powerful source of solidarity; its absence would deprive Republican politicians and Fox News of the issue that stands at the ready to roil the political pot.

This is especially true now that fewer targets are available for Republican moral outrage.It used to be that you could always count on anti-abortion and anti-gay hostilities to stoke the base.But gay people and certain gay rights have become more familiar.There is now a right to marry the adult partner of your choosing. To be sure, there has been a presidential full-court press aimed at replacing gays with immigrants as the new subverters of the American way.Yet the last few weeks have revealed that mistreatment of immigrant families can cause popular, religious and legislative blowback, including from conservatives.

Claims of moral rectitude are not the only thing lost if Roe is overturned. If Roe is reversed, the question of whether abortion should be legal or whether it should be a crime reverts to the states, and this could produce additional concerns for the right. If state legislatures decided not to criminalize abortion, frenzied Republican accusations of “judicial activism” — the liberal judicial overreach Roe is claimed to symbolize — would ring completely hollow.

There is also important evidence that citizens themselves, even in red states, are not entirely sure they want abortion to be a crime. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation legislative tracking poll shows that two-thirds of Americans do not want Roe reversed. In addition, the last several red state referendums asserting that legally protected personhood begins at conception failed. Many states couldn’t get enough signatures to get such proposals on the ballot. It turns out that in the privacy of the voting booth, many citizens have second thoughts about whether they want rights for embryos embedded in their state constitution. Ordinary people — not anti-abortion politicians — may have a more intimate understanding of what is at stake for them in banning abortion absolutely. Women of all parties and religions have abortions or want the right to one should they be faced with the calamity of an unwanted pregnancy. Ask the women and men of Ireland, a staunchly Catholic country, why they voted for a referendum removing Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion.

The prospect of criminal abortion in the United States may also light a fire under younger generations of Americans who, in consequence of what has been called “the luxury of legality,” have become rather complacent about reproductive freedoms. For over 40 years, abortion and contraception have been legally available, so, like, that can’t change, right?Women of reproductive age may be about to discover the answer might be yes — and this could energize them to elect more Democrats who will support reproductive rights.

Justice Kennedy’s resignation has given President Trump the extra Supreme Court appointment he has so craved, and he means to make the most of it. He has already said that his nominee will be young enough to serve for some 40 years. Jubilation now reigns among those who want to go back to the good old bad days of illegal abortion — marked as they were by shame, misery and a massive class divide regarding access to abortion. Republican strategists may not wholly appreciate Mr. Trump’s gift of Roe’s reversal. And there is, of course, the possibility that the justices may decide to follow the path of two prior courts and leave the core legality of reproductive rights alone.

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Carol Sanger, the Barbara Aronstein Black Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, is the author of “About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in 21st Century America.”

Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic Files Brief in Trump’s Transgender Military Ban Case

Media Contact: Public Affairs at or 212-854-2650 

New York, July 5, 2018—President Trump’s ban on military service by transgender individuals runs counter to decades of well-settled judicial decisions forbidding the government from entrenching sex stereotypes in law, according to an amicus brief filed July 3 in the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic in a case challenging the ban.

The brief was filed in Karnoski v. Trump on behalf of major rights groups from across the country in support of transgender servicemembers challenging the ban, which President Trump first announced via Twitter in July 2017. The next month the president issued a formal memorandum directing the armed forces to prohibit transgender individuals from enlisting in the military. A previously existing ban had been lifted by President Obama in 2016.

In the brief, clinic director and Columbia Law School Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg argues that justifications for the ban—including that open service by transgender men and women would harm unit cohesion—“def[ies] decades of constitutional jurisprudence rejecting laws and policies that restrict opportunities for men and women based on sex.”

Goldberg cites numerous cases in which such disparate treatment has been rejected by the courts, including Sessions v. Morales-Santana, a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that a citizenship provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act treating mothers and fathers differently violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause

“In short, assumptions that men must be one way and women another, even when rooted in traditional views and practices, are not sufficient grounds for governmental denial of opportunities to men and women who do not conform to those assumptions but are otherwise qualified and prepared to meet all relevant requirements,” Goldberg writes.

Likewise, the government’s argument that banning transgender individuals promotes fairness, safety, and privacy within the military should be rejected, Goldberg writes, citing similar arguments previously used to justify the exclusion of women, gay people, and racial minorities.

Goldberg is one of the country’s foremost experts on gender and sexuality law. Before joining Columbia Law School, where she is co-director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, she was a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal and, in that capacity, served as co-counsel for the defendants in Lawrence v. Texas. She was assisted on the brief by Columbia Law School student Solomon Leung ’20.

The underlying case was filed by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, a legal services organization for actively serving LGBT military personnel and veterans. It was later joined by the state of Washington. In December 2017, lower courts issued a preliminary injunction barring the ban from taking effect. In April, U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman of the Western District of Washington upheld the preliminary injunction, rejecting the Trump Administration’s plan to implement the ban, which would allow transgender people to serve only if they did so in their “biological sex.”

Joining Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic on the brief are: California Women Lawyers, The Center for Reproductive Rights, Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, Equal Rights Advocates, Legal Voice, Michigan Association for Justice, National Women’s Law Center, Service Women’s Action Network, and Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia. Cynthia C. Robertson, Robert C.K. Boyd, and William C. Miller of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman also served as counsel on the brief.

Congratulations to the Class of 2018!

Posted on May 14th, 2018 by Elizabeth Boylan

A Message from the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law
In Honor of the Columbia Law School Class of 2018

May 14, 2018 – The Center for Gender & Sexuality Law is thrilled to bestow our congratulations upon the Columbia Law School Class of 2018.

At the core of our work as a Center, we strive to provide resources and opportunities to enrich the experiences of all members of the Columbia Law School community – Students, Faculty, Alumni and Staff Members alike.

Our work is dependent upon the input, insight, and interest of these stakeholders – and it is with great sincerity that we express our gratitude to the graduating JD and LLM students who have inspired, participated in, and shared in our events and programs at Columbia Law School.

We have had the distinct pleasure of working with many of this year’s graduates as Research Assistants, as cohorts in planning events and programs with the vibrant Student Organizations at Columbia Law School. We have also worked with many of this year’s graduates as young scholars and lawyers pursuing academic scholarship, pro-bono work, and careers that are aligned with our Center’s mission to expand approaches to complex issues facing gender and sexual justice movements in the multiple contexts in which these movements develop.

It is our pleasure to congratulate those students being awarded degrees today from Columbia Law School. We are deeply proud of all of your accomplishments and wish you all the best moving forward.

Professor Katherine Franke
Faculty Director, The Center for Gender & Sexuality Law and
The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project

Elizabeth Reiner Platt
Director, The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project

Kira Shepherd
Director, Racial Justice Program
The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project

Liz Boylan
Associate Director, The Center for Gender & Sexuality Law

New Report Highlights Dangers of Religious Exemption Laws for LGBT Elders

Posted on December 15th, 2017 by Elizabeth Boylan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Friday, December 15, 2017

Subject:  New Report Highlights Dangers of Religious Exemption Laws for LGBT Elders

From: The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP), Columbia Law School

Contact: Liz Boylan | | 212.854.0167

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[New York] The Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP) at Columbia Law School, and SAGE, the nation’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT elders, released a new report, Dignity Denied: Religious Exemptions and LGBT Elder Services. To download the report, visit

The report highlights the unique ways in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) elders are harmed by a growing number of laws and policies aimed at exempting religious organizations and individuals from following nondiscrimination and civil rights laws and policies.

By 2050, the number of people older than 65 will double to 83.7 million, and there are currently more than 2.7 million LGBT adults who are 50 years or older living across the country. LGBT elders face unique challenges to successful aging stemming from current and past structural and legal discrimination because of their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their age, and other factors like race. These risk factors are exacerbated by recent efforts at the local, state, and federal levels to allow those with religious or moral objections to be exempt from non-discrimination laws, leaving LGBT older adults vulnerable to increased risk for discrimination and mistreatment.

According to the report released by MAP, PRPCP at Columbia Law School, and SAGE, religiously affiliated organizations provide a majority of the services LGBT elders rely on for their most basic needs. LGBT older adults, like many older Americans in the United States, access a network of service providers for health care, community programming and congregate meals, food and income assistance, and housing, ranging from independent living to skilled in-home nursing. Approximately 85% of nonprofit continuing-care retirement communities are affiliated with a religion. Religiously affiliated facilities also provide the greatest number of affordable housing units that serve low-income seniors. Finally, 14% of hospitals in the United States are religiously affiliated, accounting for 17% of all the country’s hospital beds.

While many of these facilities provide quality care for millions of older adults, there exists a coordinated nationwide effort to pass religious exemption laws and policies, and file lawsuits that would allow individuals, businesses, and even government contractors and grantees to use religion as a basis for discriminating against a range of communities, including LGBT elders.

Dignity Denied: Religious Exemptions and LGBT Elder Services outlines myriad federal and state efforts to allow individuals, businesses, and organizations to opt out of following nondiscrimination laws as long as they cite a religious objection. While most providers will do the right thing when it comes to serving their clients, some will only do so when required by law. The report concludes that because so many service providers are religiously affiliated, these laws pose a considerable threat to the health and well-being of LGBT older adults.

In conjunction with the release of the report, a panel discussion is being held on Friday, December 15, at Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University featuring speakers from Center for Faith and Community Partnerships, The LGBT & HIV Project, American Civil Liberties Union, The Movement Advancement Project, The New Jewish Home, New York City Commission on Human Rights, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, Columbia Law School, the Union Theological Seminary, and SAGE.

Watch the discussion live on SAGE’s Facebook page at SAGEUSA Facebook, starting at 12 noon on December 15. For more information about the event, visit

“This report and the amicus brief SAGE filed in the Masterpiece Cake case clearly demonstrate that personal religious beliefs should never be a license to discriminate against LGBT people or anybody else,” said Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE. “That’s why we are bringing together aging experts, religious leaders, and our elders, to expose the dangers that so-called ‘religious exemptions’ pose for LGBT elders who need care and services. We must not allow the door of a nursing home or other critical care provider to slam in LGBT elders’ faces just because of who they are and whom they love.”

“This important report reveals the many ways in which the privatization of elder services, largely to conservative religiously affiliated providers, leaves LGBT older adults no choice but to obtain care in facilities that do not welcome them,” observed Katherine Franke, Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Faculty Director of PRPCP at Columbia University. “The many LGBT elders who are adherents of faith-based traditions themselves suffer a special indignity when they are forced to seek care in settings that deny the dignity of both their LGBT identity and their faith-based beliefs.”

“LGBT older adults already are more likely to be isolated and vulnerable. It is unconscionable that state and federal governments are working to allow providers to deny critical health care services and vital social supports to LGBT older adults simply because of who they are,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project. “Imagine how much harder it would be to reach out for help if you knew the organizations that were supposed to help you could legally reject you, and the government would back them up.”

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The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) is an independent think tank that provides rigorous research, insight, and analysis that help speed equality for LGBT people. MAP works collaboratively with LGBT organizations, advocates and funders, providing information, analysis and resources that help coordinate and strengthen efforts for maximum impact. MAP’s policy research informs the public and policymakers about the legal and policy needs of LGBT people and their families.  Learn more at

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School’s (PRPCP) mission is to bring legal academic expertise to bear on the multiple contexts in which religious liberty rights conflict with or undermine other fundamental rights to equality and liberty. We undertake approaches to the developing law of religion that both respects the importance of religious liberty and recognizes the ways in which too broad an accommodation of these rights threatens Establishment Clause violations and can unsettle a proper balance with other competing fundamental rights. Our work takes the form of legal research and scholarship, public policy interventions, advocacy support, and academic and media publications.

SAGE is the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults. Founded in 1978 and headquartered in New York City, SAGE is a national organization that offers supportive services and consumer resources to LGBT older adults and their caregivers, advocates for public policy changes that address the needs of LGBT older people, provides education and technical assistance for aging providers and LGBT organizations through its National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, and cultural competency training through SAGECare. Headquartered in New York City, with staff across the country, SAGE also coordinates a growing network of affiliates in the United States. Learn more at


Fall Visitors with the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law

Posted on September 20th, 2018 by Elizabeth Boylan

Cross-posted to the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law Medium Page

This Fall, the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law is pleased to host Joseph Fischel and Emily Stolzenberg as Visiting Faculty in Residence at Columbia Law School. Professors Fischel and Stolzenberg will be participating in Center programming, and working on their own independent research while in Residence with the Center.  Both are joining the Center as part of Columbia University’s Visiting Scholars Program. Professor Fischel is on-site with us in Jerome Greene Hall, in Office 627; Professor Stolzenberg will be working off-site, primarily.

Bios for both of our Scholars follow below, along with links to their CVs:

Joseph Fischel
Curriculum Vitae

Joseph Fischel is a theorist of social and sexual justice. His research on the regulation of sex, gender, and sexuality is informed by normative political theory, queer studies, and critical race and feminist legal theory. His first two books interrogate consent as the magnetizing, dominant metric of modern sex law and late modern sexual ethics. Sex and Harm in the Age of Consent (University of Minnesota Press, 2016) argues that the sociolegal figures of the recidivistic sex offender, the innocent child and the heroic homosexual invest consent with its normative power while obfuscating more pervasive but less perceptible forms of sexual injury and gendered violence. Fischel’s second book, Screw Consent: A Better Politics of Sexual Justice (University of California Press, 2019) explores cases of atypical and non-normative sex in order to scaffold a sexual ethics less beholden to consent for what we think of as the “ordinary” couple form. His current research project, Against Nature: A Solicitation to Sodomitical Justice (forthcoming in the Sexuality Series of Temple University Press) examines the life and afterlife of sodomy law in New Orleans and beyond to reconsider the centrality of sex—in contradisctinction to race, gender or sexuality—for liberal and neoliberal governance.

Emily Stolzenberg
Curriculum Vitae

Emily Stolzenberg returns as a Visiting Scholar to Columbia Law School, where she was previously an Associate in Law and Lecturer in Law. Her research seeks to reconcile individual autonomy with family obligation and currently focuses on how to fairly and efficiently define financial obligations for a diverse array of families. Stolzenberg’s recent article, “The New Family Freedom,” published in the Boston College Law Review, analyzed how an emergent, libertarian vision of autonomy as property rights delegitimizes attempts to impose financial obligations in nonmarital and post-divorce families. Her current project, “Properties of Intimacy,” argues that family law is even more protective of title-holders’ ability to exclude others than are property law and theory and that a different approach to intimates’ property disputes could yield fairer distributions upon family dis­solution.

Stolzenberg graduated from Yale Law School in 2012, having earned a master’s in political theory from the University of Oxford in 2009. After law school, she worked with the Legal Aid Justice Center’s JustChildren Program and Elder Law Initiative in Charlottesville, VA. From 2013-2014, Stolzenberg served as a law clerk to Judge Robert D. Sack of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She then practiced family law at Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell LLP in Washington, DC. Stolzenberg is a member of the New York and Washington, DC, bars.

Job Opportunity for Law Students – National LGBTQ Task Force

Posted on May 2nd, 2018 by Elizabeth Boylan

Job Opportunity for Law Students!
10-Week Law Fellowship – Washington, DC

Our colleagues at the National LGBTQ Task Force are currently seeking two additional summer law fellows who will work out of their DC office for 10 weeks. The fellows will be supervised by Candace Bond-Theriault, as well as four other lawyers on the National LGBTQ Task Force’s policy team who work on a myriad of issues including, but not limited to: criminal justice, immigration, voting rights, data collection, reproductive healthcare, sex education, and transgender-specific issues.

We encourage all interested candidates to reach out to Ms. Bond-Theriault directly – – She may be reached at the National LGBTQ Task Force via the contact information included below.

Candace Bond-Theriault, Esq., LL.M.
Senior Policy Counsel, Reproductive Health, Rights & Justice
Democracy Project Director
National LGBTQ Task Force

202.639.6315 – Direct
202.393.2241- Fax


Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Announcement: Kira Shepherd, Director of Racial Justice Project, to Moderate ABA Webinar on Civil Rights Protection in HHS

Tomorrow, March 8th, 2018, Kira Shepherd, Director of the Racial Justice Program with the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project will be moderating a discussion for the American Bar Association, titled, “Civil Rights Protection for Discrimination? Recent Developments in the HHS Office of Civil Rights.” Kira will be joined by panelists:

* Jennifer C. Pizer, Law and Policy Director at Lambda Legal

* Susan Berke Fogel, Director of Reproductive Health at NHeLP, and

* Jamille Fields, of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America

The webinar will begin at 1:00 pm EST; Registration is required via, at the following link:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

A summary description of the discussion’s content follows:

On January 18, 2018, the Trump Administration announced a new division of the HHS Office for Civil Rights focused on the rights of health care providers to determine or deny care depending on the provider’s religious conviction. The following day, HHS issued a proposed rule to broaden the scope of existing laws that permit denials to care, and grant OCR new outreach, investigative, and enforcement authority to ensure that federal funding recipients defer to providers’ personal and institutional beliefs over patients’ needs. How are these developments likely to affect patients’ ability to obtain necessary health care? Is this new policy likely to have particular impacts on vulnerable communities such as transgender people, women and people of color? Does the new policy strike an appropriate balance between the rights of patients and the rights of providers? Our panel of experts will discuss the new division and rule in depth and offer their views of what appears to be expanded protection for health care refusals.

Kira Shepherd

Kira Shepherd is the Director of the Racial Justice Program at the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School. Before joining Columbia Law School she was the Executive Director and Director of Campaigns at The Black Institute (TBI), an action think tank that leads advocacy work in the areas of immigration, education, the environment, and economic justice. Prior to working at TBI, Kira was a Campaign Manager at, the nation’s largest online civil rights organization, where she worked on criminal justice and corporate accountability campaigns. She also worked at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center where she managed a city-wide youth advocacy project that was instituted in every public high school in Philadelphia. Kira has also worked with Families for Freedom, a human rights organization by and for families facing and fighting deportation, and Make the Road New York, the largest member-led economic justice group in New York. Kira graduated from Rutgers University School of Law, Newark with a Juris Doctorate degree.

This Spring, the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law is pleased to welcome an exciting cohort of Visiting Faculty, who will be working in residence with our team at Columbia Law School this semester.  Our visitors, Professors Sahar Aziz, Suzanne Kim, and Melissa Murray, will be engaged in programming with students and faculty at Columbia Law School, while also working on individual research projects, detailed below.

Please join us in offering a warm welcome to our visitors, and read more about their exciting work below!

Sahar Aziz
Professor of Law and Chancellor’s Social Justice Scholar, and Middle East and Legal Studies Scholar at Rutgers University Law School.

Professor Aziz served as a Senior Policy Advisor for the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security where she worked on law and policy at the intersection of national security and civil liberties.  Professor Aziz began her legal career as a litigation associate for WilmerHale after which she was an associate at Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll PLLP in Washington, D.C. where she litigated Title VII class actions on behalf of plaintiffs.

Professor Aziz earned a J.D. and M.A. in Middle East Studies from the University of Texas where she was as an associate editor of the Texas Law Review.  Professor Aziz clerked for the Honorable Andre M. Davis on the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

While at Columbia, Professor Aziz will be working on her book, The Muslim Menace: The Racialization of Religion in the Post-9/11 Era, which examines the myriad ways Islam is racialized in law and society to exempt Muslims from religious freedom protections.  In doing so, the book brings to the forefront the paradox of explicit bias and discrimination against an ostensible religious minority notwithstanding the privileging of religion in American anti-discrimination norms and law.  The book historicizes its analysis of the contemporary era to argue that religious freedom has always been conditioned on a group’s relationship to the social construction of whiteness and American Christendom.  Professor Aziz’s book is forthcoming with Harvard University Press.

Suzanne A. Kim
Professor of Law and Judge Denny Chin Scholar at Rutgers University Law School in Newark.

Professor Kim’s research and teaching interests include family, procedure, constitutional law, antidiscrimination, critical theory, and socio-legal studies. Her scholarship, interdisciplinary in approach, bridges law, critical theory, and social sciences in examining socio-legal regulation of intimacies and gender, antidiscrimination, and resilience.

Professor Kim earned a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center. She has served as an appointed member of the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Minority Concerns and has practiced law as a litigation associate with Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York and received the firm’s Pro Bono Service Award. She served as a law clerk to the Honorable Denny Chin, then of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and now of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Prior to joining the Rutgers faculty, Professor Kim was a lecturer-in-law at Stanford Law School in what is now the Thomas C. Grey Fellowship program.

While at Columbia Professor Kim will be focusing on processes of legal status migrations, including in the intimate context. This work connects theories of procedural justice and vulnerability with insights from social sciences to explore how gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, and other socioeconomic status factors inform passages across intimate status borders like that surrounding marriage. She is also writing about intimate and bodily rights as they relate to socio-legal movements in the regulation of family, race, and reproductive rights.

Melissa Murray
Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of Law at Berkeley Law School.

Professor Murray joined the Berkeley Law faculty in 2006.  She teaches Family Law, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, and Reproductive Rights and Justice. She served as interim dean from March 2016 to June 2017.

Murray is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was a Jefferson Scholar and an Echols Scholar, and Yale Law School, where she was notes development editor of the Yale Law Journal. Following law school, Murray clerked for Sonia Sotomayor, then of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, and Stefan Underhill of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. Murray is a member of the New York bar.

While at Columbia, Professor Murray will be completing two essays–one on Griswold v. Connecticut‘s origins in the criminal law reform movement, and another on interracial child custody decisions made in the aftermath of Loving v. Virginia.  But hopefully, most of my time and attention will be devoted to launching a new project that focuses on the regulation of sex and sexuality in the aftermath of decriminalization and legalization.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Friday, January 19th, 8:00 am

SUBJECT: New Report Reveals Pregnant Women of Color More Likely to Receive Religiously Restricted Reproductive Health Care in Many US States

Women of color are more likely to access Catholic hospitals, which prohibit doctors from providing contraceptives, sterilization, some treatments for ectopic pregnancy, abortion, and fertility services regardless of their patients’ wishes


Kira Shepherd, 215-908-4825,
Elizabeth Reiner Platt, 212-854-8079,
Kai Goldynia, 212-784-5728,


New York, Jan. 19, 2018–Pregnant women of color are at greater risk of being deprived of a range of reproductive health services in many US states as a result of their disproportionate use of Catholic hospitals, according to a new report released today by the Columbia Law School Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP) in partnership with Public Health Solutions. Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color compares racial disparities in birth rates at hospitals that place religious restrictions on health care.

Catholic-affiliated hospitals are governed by the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” a set of strict guidelines that prohibit doctors from providing contraceptives, sterilization, some treatments for ectopic pregnancy, abortion, and fertility services regardless of their patients’ wishes, the urgency of a patient’s medical condition, the doctor’s own medical judgment, or the standard of care in the medical profession. The report finds that in many states, women of color are far more likely than white women to give birth at Catholic hospitals, putting them at greater risk of having their health needs determined by the religious beliefs of bishops rather than the medical judgment of doctors.

This finding is especially troubling given that women of color already face a range of health disparities—including lower rates of insurance coverage and higher rates of pregnancy complications—which increases their need for comprehensive reproductive health care.

Among the findings in the report:

* In 19 of the 33 U.S. states and one territory studied, women of color are more likely than white women to give birth in a Catholic hospital.

* The racial disparity in Catholic hospital birth rates is especially striking in several states. For example:

** In New Jersey, women of color make up half of all women of reproductive age, but an overwhelming 80% of births at Catholic hospitals.

** Three-quarters of births at Catholic hospitals in Maryland are to women of color. Black women in Maryland had almost 3,000 more births at Catholic hospitals than white women, despite the fact that they had over 10,000 fewer births overall.

** Hispanic women represent about half of births at non-Catholic hospitals in New Mexico, but three-quarters of births at Christus St. Vincent—the state’s only Catholic birth hospital and a sole community provider.

** In Massachusetts, while about one in twenty births to white women occur at Catholic hospitals, one in ten births to black and Hispanic women take place at Catholic hospitals.

** One quarter of births to black women occur in a Catholic facility in Connecticut, while just over one tenth of births to white women occur in a Catholic hospital.

** One in three births to white women in Wisconsin are at Catholic hospitals while just over one in two births to black women are in a Catholic hospital. Wisconsin was the only state studied where more black women give birth at a Catholic than a non-Catholic facility.

43 states and the federal government have enacted laws protecting institutions, including Catholic hospitals, which refuse to provide comprehensive reproductive health care to patients. Despite these protections, courts have not clearly determined when and whether health care providers can withhold treatment due to their religious beliefs, or who should prevail when a hospital’s legal duty to care for a patient conflicts with a faith-based refusal law.

“The pervasive health disparities that exist between white women and women of color can be attributed to bias and racism, which both impact access to care as well as treatment within the health care system,” said Kira Shepherd, Director of the Racial Justice Project at Columbia Law School’s PRPCP. “These disparities are compounded by the spread of Catholic health care, which by putting religious doctrine over best medical practice exposes women of color to some of the same oppressive treatment that many have fought against for decades— treatment that devalues their lives and ignores their bodily autonomy.”

“Our report reveals that pregnant women of color in many states throughout the country are more likely to give birth at Catholic hospitals, where the full range of reproductive healthcare services are not available” said Lisa David, President and CEO of Public Health Solutions. “This puts their lives and families’ lives at greater risk. Public Health Solutions is committed to working to correct these restrictive religious overreaches disproportionately affecting women of color, and is proud to partner with the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School to produce this seminal report.”

A panel discussion on the release of the report will be held this evening at 6:30 PM at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. The panel will be moderated by Kira Shepherd, and will feature OB/GYN and abortion provider Dr. Willie J. Parker, attorney Candace Gibson, reproductive justice advocate Cherisse Scott, public health educator Faith Groesbeck, and Laurie Bertram Roberts, a doula and activist who was denied emergency reproductive health care at a Catholic hospital.

Read the report:

RSVP for the panel discussion: at


Media Advisory: 

New Research and Report Launch – Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color

Press Contact: 
Liz Boylan
Associate Director, Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, Columbia Law School
212.854.0167 |


Columbia Law School’s Public Rights/Private Conscience Project and Public Health Solutions announce the release of a groundbreaking report on how the rules governing care at Catholic-affiliated hospitals in the U.S. impact women of color’s access to reproductive health care. In Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color, the authors present data showing that in many states, women of color disproportionately give birth in Catholic hospitals that place religious restrictions on care—even during medical emergencies. Such restrictions stand to exacerbate the existing disparities women of color already face in accessing quality reproductive health care.

The report will be discussed at an event at New York City’s Judson Memorial Church on Friday, January 19—just days before the 45th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Decision in Roe v. Wade—by a diverse panel of reproductive justice activists, including OB/GYN and abortion provider Dr. Willie Parker as well as Laurie Bertram Roberts, a reproductive health activist who was refused care at a Catholic hospital while experiencing a miscarriage. 

Friday, January 19, 2018
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Judson Memorial Church – Sanctuary Space
55 Washington Square South, New York, NY
Event URL:


Program speakers include:

Willie Parker
OB/GYN and abortion provider
Author, Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice
Board Chair, Physicians for Reproductive Health

Candace Gibson
Staff Attorney, National Health Law Program

Cherisse Scott
Founder & Chief Executive Officer, SisterReach

Laurie Bertram Roberts
Founder and Executive Director, Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund

Faith Groesbeck
Director and Doula, Birth Quest Services LLC


[NEW YORK] The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP) at Columbia Law School is thrilled to announce the release of a groundbreaking report on how the rules governing care at Catholic-affiliated hospitals impact women of color’s access to reproductive health care. The report, written in partnership with Public Health Solutions, presents new research that women of color in many states disproportionately give birth at hospitals that place religious ideology above best medical practice.

The report will be launched with a panel discussion on Friday, January 19th at 6:30 pm at the Judson Memorial Church in downtown Manhattan. The panel, moderated by Kira Shepherd, director of the PRPCP Racial Justice Project, will explore the real-world impacts for women of color of laws and policies that subordinate the health and safety of patients to the religious beliefs of health care providers.

This program is free and open to the public. 2 New York State Continuing Legal Education Credits are available to all eligible participants. 

Please RSVP via Eventbrite:

“The findings outlined in this report indicate that women of color are at greater risk of being denied care due to religious restrictions when they need it most– during childbirth” said Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Director of PRPCP. “This event brings together health care providers, lawyers, activists, and educators to explore the impact that religious health care restrictions have on women of color, and to discuss policies for ensuring that no patient has their health and safety subordinated to religious tenets.”

Friday, January 19th, 2018
Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color
Judson Memorial Church, Sanctuary Space
55 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

2 CLE (Continuing Legal Education) Credits are available for eligible persons who attend the program.
RSVP is Required via Eventbrite:

Event Description:

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project is pleased to present a panel discussion upon the release of its report: “Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color.” The report presents new research finding that women of color in many states disproportionately give birth at hospitals that place religious ideology above best medical practice. Across the country, Catholic hospitals are governed by strict guidelines that prohibit doctors from providing contraceptives, sterilization, some treatments for ectopic pregnancy, abortion, and fertility services regardless of their patients’ wishes, the urgency of a patient’s medical condition, the doctor’s own medical judgment, or the standard of care in the medical profession. In many states, women of color are far more likely than white women to give birth at Catholic hospitals, putting them at greater risk of having their health needs subordinated to religious tenets. This finding is especially troubling given that women of color already face a range of health disparities, which increase their need for comprehensive reproductive health care.

Our Panelists Include:

Kira Shepherd
Director, Racial Justice Project, Public Rights/Private Conscience Project

Willie J. Parker, MD, MPH, MSc
Author, Life’s Work, A Moral Argument for Choice
Southern Abortion Provider
Board Chair, Physicians for Reproductive Health

Candace Gibson
Staff Attorney, National Health Law Program

Cherisse Scott
Founder & CEO, SisterReach

Laurie Bertram Roberts
Executive Director, Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund

Faith Groesbeck
Doula, and Director, Birth Quest Home

Information Regarding New York CLE Credits:

Columbia Law School has been certified by the New York State Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Board as an Accredited Provider of CLE programs. Under New York State CLE regulations, this live non-transitional CLE Program will provide 2 credit hours that can be applied toward the Areas of Professional Practice requirement. CLE credit is awarded only to New York attorneys for full attendance of the Program in its entirety. Attorneys attending only part of a Program are not eligible for partial credit for it, although they are most welcome to attend it. Attendance is determined by an attorney’s sign-in and sign-out, as shown in the Conference registers. On sign-out, attorneys should also submit their completed Evaluation Form, provided at the Conference. Please note the NYS Certificates of Attendance will be sent to the email address as it appears in the register unless otherwise noted there.”
CLE Program reading materials:

Tamesha Means v. United States Conferences of Catholic Bishops – Complaint

Bearing Faith: The Limits of Catholic Health Care for Women of Color
(Report to be released on Friday, January 19th, 2018)

For questions or for further information about this program, please contact Liz Boylan, Associate Director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at 212.854.0167or



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