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Pathways to the Profession: Sabrina Merold L’20

August 26, 2019

Editor’s Note: Each summer Penn Law students hone their skills through a wide array of private and public sector internships across the country and around the world. Generous financial support and fellowships for international and public interest work enable students to pursue diverse assignments in the United States and abroad. This post is one in a series of firsthand accounts detailing how students’ summer employment opportunities are preparing them for their legal careers.

Sabrina Merold L’20 is a rising 3L from New Jersey and plans to pursue a public interest legal career advocating for reproductive freedom and economic justice.

This summer, I am interning for the Federal Policy team at the Center for Reproductive Rights in Washington, DC, with support from the Leo Model Government Service and Public Affairs Initiative Summer Fellowship. The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) is a global legal advocacy organization that uses the law to advance reproductive rights as fundamental human rights. CRR’s groundbreaking litigation, including the Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, and advocacy work have transformed how reproductive rights are understood by courts, governments, and human rights bodies.

On the second day of my internship, I was already observing a House Judiciary Committee hearing focused on the 2019 state legislative session, which signified a new level of open hostility towards abortion rights. It was so powerful to hear from Dr. Yashica Robinson, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Alabama who provides abortion care, about Alabama’s near-total abortion ban, which would impose a 99-year prison sentence on a physician who performs an abortion. Dr. Robinson told lawmakers that if Alabama’s law went into effect, it “would force doctors like me to choose between what is ethical, medically appropriate care, and being criminalized.”

Over the last nine years, states have passed almost five hundred laws restricting access to abortion. This summer, I have had the opportunity to work on proactive legislation at the federal-level, the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), which would stop these state-level attacks. Reintroduced in the House at the end of May, WHPA establishes a statutory right for health care providers to provide care and a right for patients to receive care, free from medically unnecessary limitations and bans that single out abortion and limit access to services. It has been a great experience speaking with Congressional staffers this summer about WHPA and ongoing reproductive rights litigation at the state level. 

Throughout my time at CRR, I have truly felt integrated into the federal policy and advocacy team, as I’ve had the opportunity to work on substantive and complex assignments. Whether writing a digest to members of Congress on reproductive rights litigation and proactive state policies, drafting a complaint, conducting research for a comment on a notice of proposed rulemaking, or monitoring congressional hearings, I have been directly applying what I learned at Penn Law in Administrative Law, Constitutional Law, Employment Discrimination, the Legislative Clinic, and Reproductive Rights and Justice.

I came to Penn Law to advocate for expanding access to reproductive health care and protecting reproductive rights. I am grateful to have the opportunity to spend 10 weeks at CRR working with and learning from passionate, innovative attorneys who are using federal policy and administrative advocacy to fight for a world where access to quality reproductive healthcare is guaranteed. This experience has shaped how I want to approach my advocacy efforts as a future lawyer fighting for reproductive freedom.