The University of California, Berkeley School of Law has launched a Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice to conduct research into the ways laws controlling reproduction affect women and larger communities.

“We’re examining the courts, legislation, and regulations, as well as how the laws play out in everyday lives,” executive director Jill Adams said in a written statement. “What is needed for all members of society to obtain access to resources necessary to determine their own destinies related to reproduction?”

Despite the huge political controversy over reproductive freedom and abortion rights, law schools haven’t much emphasized the underlying legal issues. A 2010 survey by Law Students for Reproductive Justice found that only one fifth of American Bar Association-accredited law schools had offered a reproductive rights class during the previous eight years.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York, collaborates with law schools to stage events and promote teaching and research about reproductive rights, but few law schools have formal research centers dedicated to the topic.

Berkeley’s announcement was timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade. Professor Kristin Luker, the initiative’s founder, noted that lawmakers have chipped away at abortion rights ever since Roe.

“Because of these restrictions and other financial and societal barriers to access, the formal legal right is often not enough for poor, young, and rural women to get the abortion care they need,” Luker said.

The center already is backing a bill that would increase the number of health care providers in California who can perform abortions, and is also seeking to change state welfare rules. Specifically, it has joined with the East Bay Community Law Center and other reproductive rights groups to try to repeal the Maximum Family Grant rule, which bars families under some circumstances from receiving additional aid following the birth of a child.

Organizers see a connection between reproductive rights and welfare regulations.

“Part of our work is to impress upon people that these aren’t fringe issues experienced in a vacuum, but widespread experiences that are integral to individual well-being and to the realization of economic justice, racial justice, LGBTQ rights and more,” Adams said.

In addition to policy matters, the center’s leaders aim to produce the first U.S. reproductive rights law textbook within two years. They plan to co-host a symposium in October with the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Contact Karen Sloan at