Professor Jessie Hill takes leading role in legal fight for reproductive rights in Ohio

Photo of Jessie Hill, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Judge Ben C. Green Professor of Law

Nearly 50 years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. The passage of time, however, has not diminished the legal and political fights over its future. With a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court and the Trump administration’s success in adding more conservative judges to courts across the nation, the future of reproductive rights is being reshaped by the new judicial power balance.

“We are in an uphill fight in Ohio and around the nation,” said Jessie Hill, the Judge Ben C. Green Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. “We are all asking: What does the world look like if Roe is overturned?”

Hill, whose research explores the intersection of constitutional law and health law, has spent the majority of her legal career fighting to prevent the erosion of reproductive rights. After initially studying comparative literature in graduate school, she made the switch to law school in the hope of having a greater impact on the issues that mattered to her. Her decision was validated when she spent a summer with the national office of the ACLU as an intern. 

“For the first time, I fell in love with the work,” said Hill. “Before the ACLU internship, I interned with law firms and legal services, but it didn’t really speak to me. The passion of the ACLU lawyers, combined with the importance of their work, inspired and reassured me that I chose the right career path.”

Hill returned to the ACLU as a fellow with the Reproductive Freedom Project after graduating law school and clerking for 6th Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore, gaining valuable legal experience and making contacts at like-minded organizations. Then, after working at a law firm specializing in civil rights, she joined the faculty of Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 2003 as a visiting assistant professor.

Professor Hill is an accomplished scholar, writing extensively in the area of reproductive rights. She has published in some of the most prestigious journals in the country and has forthcoming articles in the Georgetown Law Journal and the Virginia Law Review Online. 

Now in her 17th year of teaching, Hill brings a wealth of practical experience to the classroom, taking on work for some of the most significant recent reproductive rights cases in Ohio. She currently serves as lead counsel or co-counsel in nearly every major constitutional challenge to an Ohio law restricting reproductive rights. In addition, she has submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in cases across the country on behalf of Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the ACLU.  In March, Professor Hill argued before the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit—her first argument before a panel of sixteen judges. She was also involved in litigation to protect access to abortion in Ohio during the pandemic. Professor Hill’s litigation work is supported in part by grants from various foundations.

“I like having my hand in the practice world,” said Hill. “Having that connection helps inform my scholarship and teaching, while also bringing a real-world perspective to the classroom that gives students the option to get involved in reproductive rights.”

In 2016, Hill created the law school’s Reproductive Rights Lab, where students produce research memos for real cases brought to Hill by advocacy groups nationally and across Ohio. 

“It’s more than understanding the black letter of the law,” said Hill. “I work with students in the lab and help them think through the issues. How would you litigate these cases? How do you bring claims and what facts do you need before you go to court?” 

While some of the issues students work on are focused on abortion access and rights, the scope of the lab’s work extends into other aspects of healthcare as well.

“Reproductive rights aren’t limited to abortion,” said Hill. “We’ve also worked on the rights of female prisoners to prenatal care and access to feminine hygiene products, produced memos on the adoption of buffer zones around clinics and examined restrictions on midwifery in Ohio. Regardless of the type of case, the process for students is the same. Examine the law, research the relevant facts, and provide a detailed analysis.”

In addition to her work in the classroom and the courtroom, Hill also serves as an advocate and researcher in the community. She is currently a legal consultant and steering committee member with the Ohio Policy Evaluation Network (OPEN), a statewide research project studying reproductive health care access and policy in Ohio. Professor Hill also serves on the boards of the National Abortion Federation Hotline Fund and of Preterm, a nonprofit abortion and sexual health clinic in Cleveland.

“You can’t succeed as a professor if you aren’t authentic to your beliefs,” said Hill. “The work I do outside the classroom directly benefits the students in our lab, giving them access to local, state and national partner organizations. For students interested in this area, we’re providing the education and practical experience to join the cause of reproductive rights.”