Sarah Stephan was a 1L when she joined UC Hastings’ chapter of If/When/How, a national network that promotes reproductive justice, in the fall of 2016. That academic year, the student organization set its sights on lobbying for increased access to birth control among UC students. The California legislature had passed a law requiring health insurance plans to cover a one-year supply of birth control at a time starting in January 2017. But the UC Student Health Insurance Plan was exempt, only covering one month’s worth over the counter and a three months' supply via mail order.
If/When/How hosted a town hall to hear students’ concerns and, along with UC Hastings’ Student Health Advisory Committee and Laurie Brookner, its Student Health Services manager, lobbied for the campus insurance provider to change its policy. “Law students are really busy, and having to remember to fill a prescription doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t cost the UC anything, and we are the constituents,” Stephan says.
By the summer, the organization’s efforts paid off: UC SHIP’s board voted to let students receive six months of birth control at a time. The process taught Stephan a valuable lesson: “Sometimes just raising your hand and repeatedly saying, ‘This is important to me’ can actually make a difference.”
As this year’s president of the UC Hastings chapter of If/When/How, Stephan is planning to continue doing just that. She is spearheading the group’s effort to lobby for SB320, a bill introduced in the California Senate in February that would require UC and California State University campuses to provide on-site medication abortion services. The chapter, which has around 25 active members, also plans to lobby against several nominees for federal judgeships who are conservative on reproductive health issues. It will also continue hosting fundraisers for independent reproductive health clinics and offering professional development for students interested in careers in the field.
The chapter is one of about 90 affiliated with If/When/How, a national nonprofit founded in 2003 to engage law students in reproductive health rights work that takes into account intersecting identities and oppression. Last year, the group expanded its work to include legal professionals and changed its name from “Law Students for Reproductive Justice.”
Through her involvement with the group, Stephan, who has long been passionate about women’s health issues, has become even more committed to a career in reproductive justice. “America is unique in that abortion rights are very polarizing, and sometimes it comes from a lack of understanding of reproductive systems and our bodies,” Stephan says. “My biggest concern is access. It’s become a political debate instead of this is a public health problem.”
Stephan’s experience with If/When/How has helped her realize that she wants to focus specifically on impact litigation. “If you can’t sue for your rights, they don’t really exist,” she says.