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."

In speaking about the international program, one colleague suggested that "publicly shaming a country, so that it is coerced in doing the right thing (the Amnesty International model) will not work around Reproductive Rights. If, however, the ILP saw itself as a midwife to the global choice movement, that would be a longer‑term, albeit, less glamorous vision."

Funders and colleagues also envision the need for continuing emphasis on Reproductive Rights. "We must 'stay the course.'" Several commented: "the Center must continue as the legal reference point for policy implications and shaping thinking and monitoring." Most called for a more proactive stance identifying and analyzing trends ― and potential backlash. "This is a real need ― and one that the Center could fill. They need to tell the rest of us what's coming down the pike." Added another: "The Center needs to think through the leadership role it can play ... there is a gap at the national level, which the Center could fill."

They would also like to see the Center "provide new and useful information and training" and "more paper for colleagues and constituents." "We should get something every three to six months from the Center about what's happening in the field." "But, there is so much information reaching people in the RR arena that if the Center were to spend time better packaging and abbreviating materials, it would get more mileage out of its work." "Electronic newsletters are effective." Several funders proposed a serious analysis of Roe v. Wade soon to ascertain the roadblocks lying ahead and the best options for addressing them. None thought that Roe v. Wade would fall, but that it "might be left out there, hanging all by itself ... Then what? We need to think that through now." "What happens after PBA? If we win? If we lose? The legal win should not become the public relations loss. There must be a strategy for this."

Involving and Energizing Constituents

Trustees, finders and colleagues agree that shaping the Center's focus and making it more easily articulated will help constituents become more involved. "If we comprehend it ourselves and can explain it to others, we are more likely to activate people." Trustees noted: "our inability to clearly articulate makes us poor ambassadors for the cause." Trustees would also like to see a succinct list of successes, both domestic and international, with a timeline, and an explanation of the impact and practicality of these successes. A visual of what has been accomplished in RR ― since the Center's founding would help to bring home the "so what factor" ― "So what difference have we made?"

Funders and colleagues emphasize that consistent partnering with other groups will strengthen the Center's overall visibility, present constituents with the bigger picture and bigger numbers, thereby offering more assurance ― "there's some safety in numbers." They stress that the Center should take the time now to identify who those long‑term partners might be, both domestic and international, and if relationships do not now exist, begin to build them. They further cautioned that in all collaboration the "emphasis should be on the success of the work rather than the credit." "The need to be the dominant partner can sap energy and good will."

Strategy and Program

Assessing Progress to Date

Most Trustees said that the Center "does program and strategy well," but they were short on specifics. Most believe that the Center "litigates well." Backing up this assertion, two Trustees cited the Center's role in the Nebraska case and its work on Partial Birth Abortion (PBA). Several others referred to its pro‑active role around EC. They noted that, despite domestic "wins," the current political climate undercuts the Center's work.

One Trustee cited progress in Chile and Mexico, which could not have happened without the Center's activities. All knew that litigation around abortion was a domestic hallmark, but most could not explain the essential components of the international programs. One did, however, single out the "spectacular WOW reports, their use at the UN and their import to other international organizations working in the RR and HR arena." Another cited the work in Nepal.

Funders and colleagues alike felt that "the Center has moved well since its founding." More familiar with the international component than the Trustees, three mentioned "fabulous" reports ... but "want to know what happens next." One said candidly, "I am unable to assess ― it's been all over the place," but remarked that the Center is most effective bringing attention to the issues." Nearly all funders and colleagues were familiar with and spoke highly of the work in Nepal. "It demonstrated change processes, the train of intervention, the change itself and needed follow‑up." And one referred passionately to the "practical, hands‑on‑quantifiable, usable ― elsewhere, most effective work in Slovakia."

With one exception (who did not think the Center should devote itself to international work at all), funders and colleagues felt that the international program could be more effective by "working on a country by country basis." "Legislative debates are needed; they have proven useful and educational elsewhere." One argued for taking more cases internationally through the European Court of Human Rights. And, returning to the issue of collaboration, one funder said that the Center has been least effective internationally "when it goes off on its own initiatives that are not well‑developed with other partners."

Measuring Success

Trustees, funders and colleagues were unaware of any systematic or specific efforts to measure the Center's success. All agreed, however, that measurements and benchmarks will be important moving forward. Some said, "the hard data ― what's quantifiable ― is the easy part ― number of cases won, number of cases lost." What's harder, but equally valid is the soft data ― the qualitative ― which takes note of "laws changed (although perhaps not immediately), lives improved, learnings which help the Center in other cases." "If we lost, did we educate, create a precedent?" There was strong consensus overall that as new strategies are developed, they must be evaluated against the Center's vision.

Substance Guiding Future Strategy

Several Trustees identified the "shoring up of favorable state constitutions" as core to the domestic work ahead. They also want the Center to "identify trends." Funders and colleagues looked for a more proactive role around the intersection of needs, e.g., RR and HIV/AIDS. Again, they stressed network building (domestically and overseas), collaboration and outcome oriented strategies rather than identifying specific goals, litigation or issues per se (as requested by the interviewer). They also expressed their belief that new leadership at the Center would embrace these tactics.

Domestic and International Programs Informing Each Other

Trustees were not sure how the domestic and international programs could inform or better inform each other, but they were quite insistent that it needs to occur. They do not know the frequency of interchange between the two staffs, although they assume that there is some and that there should be more.

Funders and colleagues spoke about thinking collectively with other groups to move the agenda forward, broadening the discussion well beyond the Center staff. A greater awareness of what others are doing nationally and internationally "can make us all more effective as we focus on what each does best." Most talked of identifying "cross country issues," where both domestic and international could bring experience and expertise to bear, e.g., medical abortions, access to various forms of contraception, RR and HIV/AIDS. Said one "be more clear about the connection between global and national. Look at the US impact globally."

Race and Ethnic Discrimination as a Program Component

All study participants recognized that minorities and the poor are underserved in RR and HR. How this should factor in to the Center's program development, none could specifically say.

Domestic Program

Expanding Domestic Litigation Beyond Abortion?

The Trustees believe that abortion is still the key issue. But many also think that the Center should "move beyond" and address linked issues. They cited EC, HIV/AIDS, work, with teens, and family planning "wherever there are legal issues (e.g., women denied prenatal care.)" "If Medicare funding changes, will there be a legal issue there? Is there a legal issue around the misinformation around abortion on the government website?'

Trustees have a deep concern that the image of the Center is "only around abortion" and believe that image must change, so that the public has a greater understanding of the overall impact on women's lives of what the Center does. One suggested that every time the Center is litigating a case, there be a full explanation of how the case fits into the larger context.

One Trustee believes that Roe v. Wade could be overturned and that the Center should begin now to develop strategy. Another said, "If it is overturned, we'll know in advance and have time. We need to keep the thought in play, but we can't focus completely on it." Most felt that Roe itself would remain intact, but several concurred that, given the current political climate, its impact could be gutted.

Only two funders commented on Roe v. Wade. One said, "it's not going to be overturned, but everything else will be. Therefore, look to work at the state level." Another stated: "We need a serious analysis of the decision and come out with an opinion whether or not to continue to defend it.

There are lots of weaknesses in the legal approach to Roe v. Wade. If it is flawed, we need to come up with a remedy. Is the Center satisfied that it can continue to defend it?

Commenting on other issues, one funder commented: "Look at the things that are winning and advancing. What is the principle that appeals and the legal strategy that can be derived and applied?" Asked one colleague: "Would the Center take up a broader rights issue, e.g., women's access to the full array of health services and gender choice and what that means for women's advancement in society? Who is active on college campuses and universities ― there is a role here that needs to be filled."

Other Strategies to Make Forward Progress in the Courts

Most Trustees felt that there was nothing to be learned from the Conservative Right "because they just play a different game." Another, however, remarked, "We're not vocal enough.

People pay attention to the loud voices. We have to fight harder, be a little dirtier. Be graphic and show all the roadblocks". Said yet another, "We should shine a bright light on the U.S. internal policies."

There were no specific strategies suggested for succeeding in non‑litigation areas, but many Trustees felt that the Center should be thinking in terms of education. "Young women don't know what they are losing." Abortion is a medical procedure and all medical students who enter the OB/GYN specialty should be required to learn the procedure. Medical school curricula must address this. All agreed that collaboration is a strategy that the Center must use. Law schools, bar associations, universities, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, and the Brookings Institution were suggested as potential partners.

Funders and colleagues said: "Keep fighting." They returned, yet again, to the issue of collaboration and while most did not identify specific partners ("other mainstream human rights groups"), they urged working together. One quite specifically said the Center and the ACLU should work reach out together to clergy, so that there are religious voices for choice ― so that we're not called 'barbaric, irreligious, immoral' ― we need to have the ethical leaders of our society with us at press conferences. Another noted that the "litigation messages need to be coordinated" and went on to say "litigation alone is not going to carry the day. It's also how to position and leverage the court cases, so that the Center can do its long-term strategy. It's very hard to think that way when you're preparing a brief at 120 mph."

International Program

Global, Political, Health‑Related Factors: Driving Scope and Direction of International Work

Most Trustees felt that they did not know enough to comment on the direction of the international work, except to say "helping NGOs understand and implement their laws seems appropriate." One with a deeper knowledge of the international scene remarked: "There's a need for a catalyst in developing countries. Help the women in Eastern and Central Europe get their laws enforced and that new laws don't violate basic human rights. The Center can be a catalyst rather than an active litigant." Another said, "Step up the international work and link it with the domestic. The US domestic policy is affecting international programs, and we need to link with other US organizations and do advocacy, as well as testify how the US is affecting the health of women. We also need to train NGO's in developing countries to make their concerns known." "Do more and link more with other HR and RR groups."

Funders and colleagues say that "one size does not fit all" and that the Center needs to do a quick assessment on the work already done and make a long‑term commitment in a few key places, where they can support and transfer skills to in‑country advocates, rather than coming up with an overall rationale." "Choose litigation where it will work." "It is more important for the ILP to choose well than it is for domestic‑pick certain countries because they're key priority areas, or long‑term relationships, or because‑you can leave something behind." "Make smart political judgments." "Collaborate with NGO's." Said one, "Push the expertise down and out."
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