ILP Summary of Strategic Planning 2003/Workshop

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The following is the reproduction of a section entitled "CRR Strategic Planning Workshop - November 10, 2003" from a program summary of various meetings held by the International Legal Program (ILP) of the Center for Reproductive Rights between September - November, 2003. This summary was submitted to the Congressional Record by Congressman Chris Smith on Monday, December 8, 2003, where it was reprinted in its entirety.[1]

Program Strategies and Accomplishments

(The following program descriptions focus on our core legal program. We have not included descriptions of our state and federal programs as well as our ongoing counsel to providers and patients.)

Domestic Legal Program. Our core strategy domestically is the use of high‑impact litigation to secure the highest constitutional protections for women's reproductive rights. Our domestic staff attorneys are among the most senior and experienced reproductive rights litigators in the country. With 21 cases in 13 states ― on issues ranging from abortion bans to funding restrictions to forced parental involvement laws ― we have the largest and most diverse docket of any pro‑choice organization in the United States.

The Center has won two landmark cases before the United States Supreme Court: Stenberg v. Carhart (striking down Nebraska's so‑called "partial‑birth abortion" ban as an unconstitutional violation of Roe v. Wade) and Ferguson v. City of Charleston (affirming the right to confidential medical care and informed consent by striking down a drug‑testing scheme targeting poor women of color). In addition, we have:

  • Secured and restored Medicaid funds for low‑income women seeking abortions, with victories in 14 states;
  • Successfully fought "partial birth abortion" bans and other access restrictions, with victories in 16 states; and
  • Challenged parental consent and notification laws, with victories in 5 states.

International Legal Program

The Center's international program works to establish reproductive rights as human rights by using international law and legal mechanisms to advance legal norms and secure women's access to quality reproductive health care globally. We are the world's only organization of international human rights lawyers that focus exclusively and extensively on reproductive rights. Nearly all of our international legal advisors come from the regions we cover; all have honed their skills at top law schools, legal organizations and national‑ level NGO's before joining the Center. At the heart of our international work is a commitment to building a global network for reproductive rights legal advocacy by building the capacity of NGO's to use international human rights laws and mechanisms to advance reproductive rights.

The Center's international program implements four key strategies:

  • Researching and reporting on national laws, policies and judicial decisions;
  • Advocating in international and regional human rights fora;
  • Documenting reproductive rights violations in fact‑finding reports; and
  • Training NGOs and lawyers through legal fellowships and visiting attorney programs, workshops, published and online resources and other technical assistance.

Key accomplishments under these strategies include:

  • Conceptualizing and publishing the Women of the World (WOW) series. Non‑governmental organizations must be able to identify national and regional legal obstacles to furthering reproductive rights in order to craft effective advocacy strategies for removing them. No comprehensive listing of laws and policies existed, however, until the Center launched the WOW series in 1996. Researched and written with partner NGOs, these regional reports document the laws and policies of 50 nations. They cover a range of issues, including: health, abortion, population and family planning, contraception, safe motherhood and women's legal status. To date, we have completed four regional reports: Anglophone Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Francophone Africa, and East Central Europe.
  • Publishing Bodies On Trial, which documents a significant gap between reproductive rights law and judicial interpretation in five Latin American countries. The Center's 150‑page report serves as a resource not only in Latin America and the Caribbean but in other regions where advocates are evaluating potential litigation strategies to advance reproductive rights.
  • Filing groundbreaking legal cases in the Inter‑American human rights system and in the UN Human Rights Committee, with two successful settlements to date to ensure that Peru's government abides by international agreements and its existing reproductive rights‑related laws.
  • Securing favorable interpretations of international human rights law from UN and regional human rights bodies, and documenting the increasingly progressive jurisprudence of the UN Treaty‑Monitoring bodies in our 300‑page report, Bringing Rights to Bear.
  • Investigating reproductive rights violations in over seven countries, including two reports on Chile and El Salvador that highlighted the role of criminal abortion laws in maternal mortality and two reports that generated significant public pressure to reform criminal abortion laws in Nepal and to safeguard women's rights to informed consent in Slovakia.
  • Providing technical assistance and capacity to use legal strategies to advance reproductive rights to over 100 organizations in over 45 countries, including training over 16 lawyers in reproductive rights advocacy at our New York office for periods of at least three months.
  • Launching the Safe Pregnancy Project, a series of fact‑finding reports that document laws and policies contributing to maternal mortality in select countries, and make recommendations for change. Our first report, on Mali, was released in February 2003 and presented at the landmark Amanitare Conference in South Africa in March.
  • Advancing adolescents' access to reproductive health services through reporting, fact-finding and legal advocacy. Our WOW reports specifically isolate legal and policy barriers to adolescents' reproductive and sexual health and rights. Our analysis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is a definitive resource for advocates and key UN staff alike, as is our fact‑finding report, State of Denial, on the inadequate legal and policy protections of adolescents' access to services and information in Zimbabwe.
  • Establishing our website as the go‑to online resource for international reproductive rights legal advocacy. In the past year, advocates in over 150 countries downloaded over 250,000 Center publications.

The Center for Reproductive Rights Summary and Synthesis of Interviews

In August, September, and October of 2003, Nancy Raybin and Elizabeth Lowell of Raybin Associates conducted some 18 strategic planning interviews with members of the Center's Board of Directors (10), representatives of long‑term institutional funders (5), and colleagues at other organizations concerned with reproductive rights (3). (We did not discuss funding opportunities with any specificity during these conversations because these issues were being addressed in separate Development Assessment interviews by Miller/Rollins.)

We also interviewed members of the management team and other Center staff and facilitated several brainstorming sessions with Center staff of both the Domestic Program and the International Program. All of these (continuing) conversations, either face‑toface or by telephone (when geography or schedule did not permit a personal meeting), focused on creating a vision and future strategies for the Center. Raybin Associates' work intentionally did not focus on internal management and organization, as that had been the subject of fairly recent strategic planning work.

A "white paper," prepared by President Nancy Northup, was sent to each study participant prior to the interview. Some interviewees read the material, some did not, and several Trustees felt that they did not know enough to comment intelligently on the issues and questions raised in the paper. In most instances, they deferred on issues of strategy to Center staff, whom they trust to define and set the direction for the future. Board members unequivocally welcomed the Center's new Director and praised the staff's legal expertise.

The remarks below are both a synthesis and summary of what we learned in our interviews with Trustees, funders, and colleagues. There is no input here from the staff workshops. We have separated the comments made by Trustees from those made by funders and colleagues. A copy of our Interview Guideline is appended; it is important to note that some participants' lack of knowledge meant that many of our questions were not addressed.

Mission and Vision: Differentiating the Center

Most Trustees noted that what differentiates the Center is its law and legal work. They noted "expertise around Reproductive Rights (RR) and Human Rights (HR)," "brilliant, focused, sophisticated lawyers who can fight and win," and "who work on the 'cutting edge.'" One Trustee noted that it is the only organization working on the legal and human rights aspects of RR, but most felt at a loss to speak concisely and specifically about what the Center does that makes it different from other "players" in the field. Trustees also cited international work as a unique aspect of the Center, but were unclear as to the specifics of this work.

Funders and Colleagues could, and did, give definition to the international role. They talked about the Center's role in "linking groups of people trying to advance women's issues globally," how the Center helps "to define and challenge national legal systems," and how "finely‑honed the legalistic work" is. One funder declared, however, that the legalistic often comes at the expense of economic and social justice‑and gave a stark example of a Somali woman.

While one funder noted that the Center is unique because of its strong commitment to RR, two others noted: "other organizations are also grappling with these issues." "The Center should place itself within the range of other groups which do similar work... . It is not enough to assert you are unique‑you must describe why." "The Center is not unique in litigation; both Planned Parenthood and the ACLU also litigate: How are the client base and issues different and has the Center deliberately developed their expertise accordingly ... or has it just happened?" One colleague asked about how the Center views itself: "as a litigating organization or as a broader advocacy group?"

Articulating a Broad Vision for the Next Five Years

Trustees hold the Center's staff in extremely high regard. Their level of respect and trust is extraordinary. Most Trustees would largely defer to staff in setting the vision for the future and determining the direction. Having said that, most believe that the domestic focus should still be on abortion. Several Trustees mentioned that they would also like to see work in the related areas of Emergency Contraception (EC), contraceptive equity and comprehensive sex education, including work with adolescents.

Most Trustees think that the image and reputation of the Center needs clarifying and heightening and that collaboration with other RR and HR groups would help to improve the Center's visibility as well as move the agenda(s) forward.

Funders and colleagues believe strongly that the broad vision for the next five years must be "ruthlessly prioritized." "Their approach should be outcomes‑oriented. It's not good enough just to research, write and present. Engineer backwards from what they want to see happen." "I understand the causal model of theory of change; spell it out for us; define the outcome you expect ... not just winning decisions." Most see this as requiring more sharing of expertise. Indeed, partnering with other organizations, both domestic and international, was a strong and recurrent theme in all of their comments. Nepal and Slovakia were cited as examples. where the Center had identified local groups with which to work and had been successful. Acknowledging that the Center cannot do it all, "after the outcomes are defined, then the Center needs to determine who best to work with locally." "Greater collaboration must be a defining characteristic of the Center's future work."
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