How to be a writing contest co-sponsor

August 27, 2008


NAPW is seeking your support to help implement two writing competitions relating to birthing
rights as a matter of gender equality and reproductive justice.

NAPW knows that legal scholarship can be effective in bringing about social change. For exam-
ple, the feminist legal community helped to bring issues such as sexual harassment into the lexicon of gender equality.

Moreover, courts often rely on influential law review articles when addressing new and difficult
issues. A seminal article by Cyril Means1 about abortion rights not only helped encourage aca-
demic discussion about an issue that was once unspeakable, it also helped shape the law when it
was cited by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. The court in the case of Angela Carder’s forced
caesarean relied specifically on Janet Gallagher's groundbreaking article in the field when it
recognized the procedural shortcomings inherent in emergency court hearings called to weigh
maternal vs. state (fetal) rights. More recently, Sylvia Law’s article on insurance coverage for
contraception5 was cited in Erickson v. Bartell Drug Co., in which a federal court in Washing-
ton State held that a company discriminated against its employees on the basis of sex by exclud-
ing contraception from its employee insurance policies. We believe that an academic writing
competition can act as a catalyst for the legal community to join the dialogue on issues that
NAPW and our allies consider crucial to a full understanding of Reproductive Justice. Directing
the competition to law students will leverage the enthusiasm and creativity of a new generation
of feminist legal scholars and spark critical thinking about the need to address childbirth and
birthing rights as constitutional and human rights issues.

These contests will complement some of the very exciting grassroots organizing that groups like
the Big Push for Midwives are doing and public education efforts, including the recent documen-
tary The Business of Being Born and the book Pushed.8 These grassroots and public education
efforts have not only brought national attention to birthing rights and the need for a reevaluation
of the American standard of prenatal and delivery care, they have helped to win legal victories:
the Missouri Supreme Court recently reversed the decision of a lower court that eliminated certi-
fication for professional midwives and which had left them susceptible to criminal prosecution.

To reinforce and advance these efforts further, NAPW has developed two separate challenges.
The first asks for a critical theoretical analysis of the absence of birthing rights issues from gen-
der discrimination and feminist jurisprudence textbooks and curricula. None of the top three
casebooks used in law school courses dedicated to gender and the law address the issue of child-
birth or midwifery. The treatment of reproductive rights as a whole is generally restricted to a
couple of weeks. Within this section of the curriculum, abortion gets the lion’s share of the dis-
cussion, with a few adventurous professors moving into the territory of criminalization of preg-
nancy for women who cannot overcome a drug problem, and a few touching on the brave new
world of reproductive technologies, and then wrapping up the reproductive rights unit by segue-
ing into the gendered construction of parenthood. This is a logical progression, but we are con-
cerned that there is a glaring omission: how did a woman manage to transition down the syllabus
from “maternal rights vs. fetal rights” to “motherhood” without crossing the threshold of child-
birth? This contest will call attention to a topic with which many law students may be unfamiliar
and will serve as a challenge to law professors to reexamine their textbooks and their curricula.

The second contest asks students to develop legal theories that can be used to challenge hospi-
tal/insurance company and regional/state policies banning pregnant women from having a vagi-
nal birth after a prior caesarean section (VBAC). This topic will encourage students to address a
growing problem that has received very little attention from the feminist legal community both in
academia and within the leading women's rights legal advocacy organizations. With the excep-
tion of NAPW allies at the Northwest Women's Law Center, no group is currently planning a
challenge to such prohibitions. This contest will generate new conversations, legal theories, and
strategies that can be included in the discussion of gender discrimination and human rights.
These contests can have a practical effect by encouraging legal practitioners to challenge VBAC
bans, and by providing courts with authority they can cite in ruling in favor of women seeking to
retain their civil and human rights while pregnant.

We intend to launch the contest in late August at the beginning of the law school term. We will
advertise the two competitions to law students through a variety of channels. NAPW will seek
support for the contests from Law Students for Reproductive Justice as well as from other lead-
ing birthing rights and pro-choice organizations. We will also reach out through law schools and
law student organizations, career planning offices, law reviews, the ABA Law Student Division,
the American Constitutional Society, National Lawyers Guild, Black Law Students Association,
Latin American Law Students Association, and student groups dedicated to women’s rights and
reproductive justice, as well as through other venues for feminist legal scholars and activists,
We have suggested a length and style for the article
that allows students who participate in the contest to also use the article to fulfill law
school writing requirements. The contest deadline is May of 2009, to coincide with the end
of the academic law school year.

NAPW and its allies will organize panels of childbirth/reproductive justice experts and activists
to judge the articles. We are in the process of exploring ways to guarantee placement of the
winning articles in a law journal, or at least to generate interest among journals to consider the
winning selections for publication. In addition, the winning scholar in each contest will receive a
$1000* prize. Second and third prize will be $500* and $250*, respectively. We will also ar-
range for the first prize winners to meet some of the judges, and are exploring opportunities to
present the prize at upcoming birthing rights/reproductive justice conferences and events that
will be held in the summer of 2009.

We hope that you will to support this timely and catalytic effort by:

1) Allowing us to list you as a co-sponsor of these competitions; and
2) Giving us your suggestions for other possible supporters and contest judges, and ways to publicize the contests including law blogs, listservs, and websites.

For a Printable Version of this explanation, including sources and the Co-Sponsorship Authorization
please down load this file.