By Jaclyn Serpico, Founding President, If/When/How law student chapter at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law
“We are suspending face-to-face classes … for the remainder of the semester,” read the email notification from my university president. At first, I was worried for the safety of my community. But, selfishly, I was also worried about an event I’d been planning for months — a Supreme Court oral argument debrief panel. My If/When/How chapter had arranged two speakers from out of town for a discussion of the arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo — we’d secured the foremost abortion rights litigator in our state (Ohio), and a senior attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights who’d worked on the strategy in June Medical. We were expecting a big turnout, an engaging conversation, and a valuable boost in publicity for our new chapter. The panel would also be the first large event we were leading since re-establishing the If/When/How presence on our campus.
Faced with the choice of cancelling the event or moving it online, my fear of a low online turnout left me momentarily devastated. But access to abortion doesn’t cease to matter even when other issues (rightly) take over the public consciousness. That was evident when the House tried to hold up a coronavirus emergency spending bill because it didn’t include Hyde Amendment language barring Medicaid funding for abortion care. Or when Ohio’s attorney general attempted to suspend abortion services in our states. Just as threats to reproductive freedom will continue in these times, we must continue to respond.
I quickly realized that this online meeting was an incredible opportunity to offer what would otherwise have been something exclusive — learning from elite legal minds — to anyone with an internet connection. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got. I reached out to advocacy organizations, other student organizations, If/When/How chapters at other law schools, and professors. I realized that my organization could take the lead in a cause I came to law school caring deeply about: making the law accessible to all.
In the end, we held the panel on Zoom with 36 attendees from diverse backgrounds — law, medical, graduate and undergraduate students, professors and community organizers, people I didn’t even know, and even my dad — a great turnout for a few days’ notice in the midst of a global pandemic. Our speakers were fantastic, and I’m confident that everyone who tuned in learned something. In a time of uncertainty, we were able to host a critical conversation, and to do so in a way that fostered accessibility and connection beyond the law school. Through this experience, I now want our chapter to livestream future events. Staying positive is difficult for a lot of reasons right now, but I’m thankful that reproductive rights and justice work continues to be a space of inspiration and community.
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