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Clara Simone Spera is a 2019 Equal Justice Works Fellow hosted by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Reproductive Freedom Project. Her Fellowship is supported by an anonymous sponsor.
Disclaimer: This interview was conducted before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. The work of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project has shifted dramatically in the wake of the pandemic.
You are the first Equal Justice Works Fellow in eight years focused on protecting and expanding access to reproductive care. What inspired you to apply for an Equal Justice Works Fellowship?
In this particular moment in our country’s history, we are seeing one of the most significant attacks on access to reproductive care. Having just come out of law school and two federal clerkships, I was thinking about the critical work that needs to be done. I’ve always been passionate about women’s reproductive rights. As legislation quickly changes on the federal and state level, I knew this was an area of law where I wanted to consolidate my efforts.
As I was searching for ways to get involved with public interest work, my law school introduced me to the Equal Justice Works Fellowship. After learning about the opportunity, it seemed like a no brainer to design my own Equal Justice Works Fellowship project.
In 2019, 58 abortion restrictions passed across the country. How has this impacted the work of your host organization, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Reproductive Freedom Project (RFP)?
Above all else, we are swamped! So, it is great that the RFP can have the additional support of an Equal Justice Works Fellow: through my project, I can expand the capacity of RFP. In our day-to-day operations, we’re battling restrictions as they come up and planning for the worst-case scenario in case the federal Constitutional right to abortion gets more curtailed or even eliminated. The work has exposed me to all kinds of litigation techniques and different reproductive rights coalition dynamics.
Part of your project includes advising women, health care professionals, and organization partners in states on substantial legal questions regarding women’s health care. What community partnerships have you created to provide holistic solutions for your clients?
Recently, I was part of a team that filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Texas, challenging the constitutionality of city ordinances that purport to ban abortion and prohibit any abortion-related advocacy within city limits. The plaintiffs are two reproductive rights organizations that are essential to educating communities about their rights and that also help cover the costs of abortion care and the ancillary costs associated with it, like travel and childcare. By representing these organizations, we are reaching directly into the communities most affected by these types of laws.
Through your project, you identify and implement strategies for lifting existing barriers to women’s health care. How have you increased community education and outreach to teach women about their reproductive rights?
Across the city, state, and federal levels, governments are curtailing individuals’ right to learn about abortion. In the Texas case specifically, our goal is to make sure that these reproductive rights organizations can increase community education and outreach.
The reproductive rights community is a coalition—there are a lot of moving parts, and no one organization or one Fellow can do everything. Together, we leverage the relationships and organizations that already exist, so that we can do the most good and reach the most people.
Many members of your team have been recognized for their contributions to protecting the rights of women. What is the most important lesson that you’ve learned from the mentorship of these talented public interest lawyers?
It’s an honor to work with these lawyers. They inspire me—every day I go to work, they make me want to become a better lawyer. Some of my supervisors and coworkers are people I had followed on Twitter for years, and now I work with them every day. That is such a startling but exciting privilege.
The biggest takeaway has been that my supervisors and coworkers are human beings, and they work hard, and if I work hard, I can also achieve the level of excellence that they exude. Secondly, I learned that they want to help young lawyers, like me, grow. They know that the fight for reproductive rights won’t be over in the next year or two, so they take the time to help the young lawyers who will be in this fight for a long time.
Lastly, if you could give law students interested in pursuing similar work one piece of advice, what would it be?
I gathered some tips from the attorneys in my office, so I will relay their tips: first, it’s important to display a demonstrated commitment to reproductive rights and social justice early on in one’s legal career. It signals to organizations that this is something you truly care about, and it is the best way to create a tool kit before you start working. Second, focus on transferable skills—specifically research and analytical skills. Practical experience can be especially helpful early on in your career.
My personal advice: if you don’t have a direct opportunity to work on reproductive rights in law school or work, you can try to create those opportunities. Most law schools allow students to design their own externship or clinical experiences, write independent research papers, or create other opportunities to explore a specific legal area. Reach out to a legal organization and tell them that you would like to take on a pro bono case or attend a one-day clinic. It does take a little bit of effort and some independent initiative, but it will help you learn these skills and signal to organizations that you’re committed.
To learn more about Clara Simone Spera’s Fellowship, visit her Fellow profile.
It’s an honor to work with these lawyers. They inspire me—every day I go to work, they make me want to become a better lawyer.
Clara Simone Spera /
Equal Justice Works Fellow