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UVA law class rewrites state constitution through ‘feminist lens’

Abortion on demand. Guaranteed access to affordable health care. Redefining marriage as “a union between any two persons.”

These are some of the major changes made to Virginia’s state constitution by law students enrolled in a “Comparative Gender Equality” class at the University of Virginia School of Law, the university reported.

The class project to rewrite the state constitution was the brainchild of Professor Mila Versteeg, who had her class during the fall semester drum up the revise as a capstone project, according to UVA’s Jan. 10 news release.

“There’s a lot of impetus at the moment for amending state constitutions in light of Dobbs,” Versteeg stated in the release, referring to the Supreme Court decision in June overturning Roe v. Wade.

To that end, as part of their revision “the students added a fundamental right to abortion and affordable health care that includes reproductive care for Virginians, changed the all-male pronouns that appeared throughout the document, and updated language that permitted schools to discriminate on the basis of gender,” the institution reported.

“On top of that, [students] added a provision to ensure access to, and funding of, abortions for women who can’t afford one.”

Founded in 1819, UVA’s law school is the second-oldest in the nation and is consistently ranked among the top law schools. Its news release, titled “Class Examines Virginia Constitution Through Feminist Lens,” pointed out that the last time the state constitution was revised was in 1968, when the “feminist movement was just heating up nationwide.”

Versteeg stated in the news release that the “Virginia constitution does not address some of the most pressing issues for many women today, such as access to reproductive health care, abortion or universal pre-K education.”

The “Comparative Gender Equality” class project came on the heels of news in August 2022 that a law professor and two colleagues at the University of Virginia received a $1 million grant from UVA’s Democracy Initiative to start the school’s new “Sound Justice Lab” — which “aims to advance gender justice in law, democracy [and] community.”

UVA law Professor Anne Coughlin said at the time of its debut that it aims to “influence pedagogy both in law school classes and elsewhere.”

“Think about whose voices have the most power in public spaces, which include classrooms,” she said in a news release. “What do those voices sound like? Whose claims and interests are heard and considered relevant, and whose are not? Our lab will study what justice sounds like and looks like when some voices are given a hearing and others are not.”

MORE: Black female in ‘head scarf’ attacked UVA ‘Black Cultural Center’: police

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