If/When/How’s Quick Question series highlights the amazing members of our ever-growing network who are dedicating their lives to the repro justice movement. We’re so proud of the work they’re doing to ensure that everyone has the ability to safely decide if, when, and how to create and sustain their families. But we can’t support them without you: During our Gradsgiving 2018 campaign from May 21-25, we’re asking folks to donate $30 to help us give aspiring and new lawyers the resources they need to thrive. (And there’s some gorgeous custom swag in it for you, too.)
And if you can’t give — share!
The ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project’s Brigitte Amiri has become one of the loudest voices of the #JusticeforJane movement — the coalition of reproductive justice and immigrant rights advocates who are challenging the Trump Administration’s interference in private medical decisions made by undocumented teens who need abortion care. Amiri is leading the fight in the courts to keep these young folks — known as “Jane Does” — free from the ideological meddling of political and religious extremists.
Amiri’s also a friend of If/When/How — and former member of our Board of Directors — who’s inspiring the next generation of reproductive justice advocates to find their place in the movement. We asked her to talk about how she developed her rockstar RJ career, and what advice she has for new graduates and lawyers.
If/When/How: What, or perhaps who, drew you to reproductive justice work?
Brigitte Amiri: My mom. She was an unexpected feminist. She grew up in a small farming community in Illinois, didn’t graduate from college, married my father (an Iranian immigrant) and was a stay-at-home mom. When I was a kid she rallied for the ratifications of the Equal Rights Amendment, and progressive politicians. I will never forget how excited she was when Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. She instilled in me a need to fight for fairness and equality.
If/When/How: How did you come to serve on the If/When/How Board of Directors? Subquestion: Board service is a not-insubstantial time investment for someone who’s also building a rockstar legal career. Why say yes to that type of commitment, at that particular time in your career?
Amiri: Louise Melling, the deputy legal director at the ACLU, was leaving the board and asked if I would be interested in applying for her spot. I jumped at the chance! At the time, Jill Adams was the Executive Director [of If/When/How]. I thought (and still think) she was a visionary, and was excited to work with her. And Sabrina [Andrus] effortlessly filled Jill’s shoes when she left. I was also motivated, of course, by the mission – we need the next generation of lawyers to do this work. And I love mentoring those interested in this field.
If/When/How: Instruction in repro justice lawyering is not something that’s necessarily guaranteed to come with a law degree — something If/When/How exists, in part, to change. You’ve demanded conversations about reproductive rights and justice in educational spaces during your undergraduate years. Can you talk about why it’s important to teach RJ in law schools? What benefit do you see in making RJ-centered courses available beyond what students might already get in their Constitutional law courses?
Amiri: I fought for recognition of a reproductive rights group on campus at my undergrad school, DePaul University. It is Catholic, so you can imagine that my attempts did not go over well with the administration. But just the process of trying to organize the group was really important – it raised visibility of the issue and created a conversation. I went on to a very progressive law school (Northeastern) but If/When/How didn’t exist yet. So I volunteered in my “spare time” at the NARAL chapter in Massachusetts. It would have been so much better to have an organizing opportunity right on campus. And as for instruction, reproductive rights and justice is such a rich field that overlaps with so many constitutional rights. It’s important for schools to teach dedicated classes on the subject to have the time to do a deep dive. I loved teaching a seminar for a couple of years at New York Law School.
If/When/How: What advice would you give to a law student, or even an undergrad who’s thinking about law, who wants to do repro work but doesn’t know what path they want to take?
Amiri: There are so many ways to do this work! I would say first figure out what you like to do: litigation, policy, lobbying, communications, etc. You can figure this out through internships, informational interviews, reading, thinking about what makes you happy. And then there are so many types of jobs in different parts of the country. And there are always ways to incorporate repro into your work even if you aren’t working for a dedicated repro organization, like helping minors with bypasses or doing pro bono work.
If/When/How: What makes you powerful?
Amiri: My golden lasso ?. My intense passion for this issue is hugely motivating. I’ve also been in this field for years, and have honed my legal skills — law is a powerful tool to help others.
If/When/How: What is the most difficult part of choosing this field and this movement? Do you get burnt out? How do you handle it?
Amiri: One of the most difficult aspects of this field is trying not to feel angry all the time at the outrageous ways in which politicians are trying to rob people of their constitutional rights and block them from accessing critical health care. I do get tired. But I have amazing colleagues at the ACLU and sister organizations, and we help each other. And I have a wonderful family, who is very supportive of my work. Spending time with my daughter brings me endless joy, and puts everything instantly into perspective.
If/When/How: What is the most enriching part? Why not just abandon it all and go rake in the millions at a highfalutin corporate gig?
Amiri: I can’t imagine doing anything else. We all do this work because we want to help others be able to access the health care that they need without obstacles, shame, or stigma. As an added bonus, we get to hold lawless government officials accountable.
If/When/How: The work you’re doing at the ACLU on Jane Doe’s case sits right at the intersection of reproductive justice and immigrant justice. What does that mean for you as an advocate? Does it affect how you approach the case, or the people you’re serving?
Amiri: I am so honored to be able to represent Jane Doe and the Janes. I am in awe of their courage and bravery. I am certainly sensitive to all that they have endured in their home countries, and on the dangerous trek to the United States. When litigating the case, I am in constant communication about the case with our Immigrants’ Rights Project. It’s been a tough, intense fight, but this case is precisely why I do this work.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of If/When/How. If you like what you read, consider dropping a few bucks in our tip jar or sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter.