Student Argues Reproductive Rights of Incarcerated Women at Conference in Dominican Republic


Sawyeh Esmaili

It is not every day that a law student has the opportunity to educate the educators on pressing issues regarding the reproductive rights of incarcerated women. Rising 3L and Miami Scholar Sawyeh Esmaili was given this rare opportunity when she was selected to present at the LatCrit South-North Exchange conference in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The annual conference convenes critical theorists to discuss pivotal topics affecting the south-north hemispheres. This year, the theme of the conference was “Leading from the South: Politics of Gender, Sex, and Sexualities.”

At the conference, Esmaili presented her paper “An Incarcerated Woman’s Right to a Nontherapeutic Abortion: A Human Rights Framework.” In the paper, Esmaili discusses the current circuit split on whether depriving an incarcerated woman of an elective abortion is a "serious medical need" implicating the Eighth Amendment. Esmaili argues that the denial of an abortion to an incarcerated woman should constitute torture and a violation of the Eighth Amendment. In making the argument, Esmaili draws on international law and United Nations reports, but finds a more practical basis in the Eighth Amendment.

“Depriving a woman of an abortion as a result of her incarceration links the denial of legally available healthcare to her punishment,” writes Esmaili. “A woman is, therefore, forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy as a part of her sentence.”  

Esmaili wrote the paper to satisfy her law review student note requirement and as a part of the Mass Incarceration class she took with Professor Donna Coker. Professor Coker served as her advisor on the paper and recommended that she apply to the conference. Esmaili’s participation in the conference was funded by L.A.F.A.C.

“The conference was a great glimpse into the academic world, and I particularly enjoyed that the conference was at the intersection of theory and practice,” said Esmaili.

Professor Francisco Valdes, a founding member of LatCrit, also presented at the conference. He participated in a round table discussion titled "Developing a Course Book on Systemic Inequality and Social Impact Advocacy."

Esmaili is actively involved in the Miami Law community and beyond. A member of the Public Interest Law Board (PILB), she is currently leading the group as its chair. She interned with Planned Parenthood Global’s Latin America Regional Office the summer after her 1L year and, as a 2L, served as an extern with the Florida Justice Institute and as an intern with the Immigration Clinic. She is also the Submissions Editor of the Race & Social Justice Law Review.