Week 1: Library of Congress, The Law, and Lots of Voicemails

Today marks the end of my first week of research, and also one of the most educational weeks of my life. I knew that self-guided research would take a lot of organization, self-motivation, and tenacity, but I was unprepared for the learning curve I was up against, and the amount of patience it would take to overcome. No matter how organized you might be on your own, community engagement requires that others be on their game as well, and that is often not the case. Thus, many voicemails, a lot of phone tag, and repeated explanations that, no, you are not a member of the press.

Before beginning work this week, I was able to access all Supreme Court cases, Virginia Code chapters/statutes, and Virginia-specific lawsuits relating to abortion access using LexisNexis and Westlaw, two online legal databases (available for free at the Library of Congress and all Virginia county courthouses). I spent the first two days of this week analyzing the landmark cases — Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Virginia Code Chapter 4 Article 9 — and learning how to write a brief, law school style. On Wednesday, I took a trip to the Library of Congress to use their law library for more extensive research, and was able to reserve a number of great texts analyzing abortion legislation through the decades. I was able to scan and email to myself most of the important chapters from those books, meaning I can analyze them on my own time.

I have spent the remainder of this week lining up interviews (or trying to) with Planned Parenthoods throughout the state, physicians, state delegates, as well as pro-choice and pro-life organizations in Virginia. I have been successful with some, left many voicemails for others, and only been told no by one women’s clinic thus far. I also took some time to look into audio recordings and written interviews with the late U.S. Surgeon General Everett Koop and former Virginia Health Commissioner Karen Remley, two public figures instrumental in Virginia’s abortion debate, but was largely unsuccessful. I found several informative articles on them, a few of their public statements, and a good interview with Surgeon General Koop from the 1980’s, and have done my best to work with those.

Next week I will be traveling to Richmond to interview two physicians who opened women’s clinics in Virginia right after Roe v. Wade, visit the VA Office of Vital Records, and to visit the city’s Planned Parenthood. I will travel to Roanoke in the second half of the week to visit their Planned Parenthood and pursue any location-specific research opportunities. Thursday and Friday will be spent processing the information I gather in Richmond and Roanoke, and meeting with a representative from a local pro-choice grassroots organization. I look forward to updating you then!