Changing the Face of RJ Lawyering: Introducing our Twelfth Cohort of Reproductive Justice Fellows

Today, If/When/How is proud to announce our twelfth Reproductive Justice Fellowship Program (RJFP) cohort and welcome seven recent law school graduates to a community of 90 lawyers who have launched their careers with our one-of-a-kind legal fellowship. For over a decade, the RJFP has changed the face of lawyering for reproductive justice, placing new lawyers at local and national nonprofits to hone their skills, deepen their advocacy efforts, and realize a world where everyone can self-determine their reproductive lives, free from threat, coercion, or violence.

During this year-long fellowship, If/When/How Fellows in the RJ Federal program focus on national policy work in Washington, D.C., and our RJ State and RJ-HIV program Fellows help build power for the movement at placement organizations in Tennessee, Georgia, and California that are working at the intersection of myriad issues to promote reproductive justice for all people.

The urgency of this moment is not lost on us. The RJFP recognizes that lawyers have a unique role in our movement, particularly when a global pandemic, rising white supremacist violence and police brutality, and a federal judiciary and Supreme Court stacked with conservative appointees compound the systemic barriers to reproductive freedom for all.

Those who are most harmed by reproductive oppression must be leading the movement to lawyer for reproductive justice. By design, the legal field often excludes, ostracizes, and marginalizes the people and communities myst harmed by reproductive oppression. Among U.S. law students admitted in 2020, nearly 60 percent were white. Women make up a little over half of that class. However, gender parity disappears and racial disparities increase when we look at who’s actually practicing law: 62 percent of lawyers are men, and 85 percent are white. According to NALP’s reports published in 2017, just 7.5 percent of lawyers employed by firms in the NALP Directory of Legal Employers are women of color, and 2.64 percent are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender folks.

In contrast: About 66 percent of If/When/How’s twelve Fellow cohorts identify as people of color, and 42 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer folks. The RJFP values lived experiences and actively selects candidates who come from communities disproportionately impacted by reproductive oppression.

The impact that RJFP Fellows make is clear. From appearing as co-counsel on an amicus brief in the contraceptive ACA coverage case Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, to advocating and ultimately passing a bill establishing prenatal care standards for incarcerated people in Tennessee, to organizing and registering voters in Georgia, our Fellows have done incredible work helping build a world in which reproductive freedom is closer to becoming a reality for all of us.

Please join us in congratulating these seven new RJ Fellows and the placement organizations selected to participate in the 2021-22 cohort.

Akayla Galloway (she/her), Southern University Law Center ‘21, RJ-HIV Fellow at SisterLove, Inc. in Atlanta, GA.

Chelsea Gonzalez (she/her/they/them), University at Buffalo School of Law ’20, RJ Federal Fellow at Advocates for Youth in Washington, D.C.

Heather Allison (she/her), University of Texas School of Law ’20, RJ State Fellow at Healthy & Free Tennessee in Nashville, TN.

Kai Johnson (she/her), Tulane Law School ’21, RJ State Fellow at Women Engaged in Atlanta, GA.

Nneka Ewulonu (they/them), University of Georgia School of Law ’21, RJ State Fellow at SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW! in Atlanta, GA.

Sallie Thomas (she/her), Howard University School of Law ’21, RJ-HIV Fellow at Positive Women’s Network-USA in Oakland, CA.

Sheila Ramirez (she/her), Western New England School of Law ’21, RJ Federal Fellow at All* Above All in Washington, D.C.

To help us lift up these Fellows, follow us on Facebook, on Twitter and on Instagram, and on our blog. If you can, make a donation and tell your friends and family why you think it’s so important to support the reproductive justice movement by demanding a more diverse, more representative legal field.

We could not do this work without the generous funding from our foundation partners, the continued collaboration with the Women and the Law Program at American University Washington College of Law, the unflagging support from our allies and community, and the energy and enthusiasm from our student and legal professional members. Thank you!