In light of the uncertain future of reproductive rights in the United States and ongoing battle over women’s rights, the theme of this year’s Rutgers Law School Mary Philbrook Public Interest Awards Celebration focused on reproductive justice.
The Mary Philbrook Public Interest Award was presented to Susan Frietsche, Co-Interim Director of the Women’s Law Project, for her career in the protection of reproductive rights and justice. Her law practice focuses on providing legal services for the 17 freestanding abortion facilities in Pennsylvania, including direct representation in state and federal courts, amicus representation, compliance work, legislative advocacy, representation before state licensure boards, and strategic defense from anti-abortion violence and disruption. Frietsche has appeared as counsel for young women seeking confidential abortions in over 50 judicial bypass cases.
Frietsche said, “This huge honor was especially meaningful to me because it came from students who are preparing for public interest careers, and doing so at an important moment in our nation’s history. The work we do during this perilous time of change and opportunity will have far-reaching consequences, and I look forward to seeing Rutgers law grads answer the call.”
Special recognition was given to Rutgers Law School Co-Dean Kimberly Mutcherson who is a national expert and advocate of reproductive rights.
"Given this country’s history, all of us who were left out at its founding and yet still somehow believe in the promise of America are dreamers of a sort," remarked Co-Dean Mutcherson. 'Like Sue and her colleagues, we see what is and know what could be. We recognize the progress that this country has made, even as it backslides, and believe that better is possible"
Michele Goodwin, author, advocate, and University of California, Irvine Chancellor’s Professor of Law, delivered a special introduction of the honorees. Exemplary students and recent graduates were also recognized for their significant contributions to the public good.
“The 2022 theme was selected specifically to highlight the importance of women's voices in light of our loss of fundamental rights,” said Rachel Tavani (RLAW ’24), president of the Association for Public Interest Law (APIL) on Camden’s campus. “I'm glad we could honor the work of the legends before us in the field of reproductive justice and inspire our classmates to continue to change our world for the better.”
This event marks the 37th annual celebration of Mary Philbrook's life, legacy, and impact. Philbrook was a prominent leader in the campaign for women's suffrage and the Equal Rights Amendment. She was instrumental in the formation of New Jersey's first statewide legal aid society and the adoption of the equal rights provision in the 1947 New Jersey state constitution. She also worked in the settlement houses of slums, educated immigrants, organized workers, and attempted to reform prison and the juvenile justice system.
The celebration took place on November 3 at the Rutgers University-Camden Campus Center. To highlight Frietsche's career and work, APIL and the Women’s Law Caucus (WLC) leadership organized substantive and service efforts during the week of the celebration, including a hygiene drive and discussions on privacy and post-Dobbs America.
The Celebration was co-sponsored by the Rutgers Law School Camden Alumni Association, APIL, WLC, the Social Justice Scholars, Rutgers Law School, Camden County Bar Association and Burlington County Bar Association.