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PILI Alumni Spotlight: Lorie Chaiten, 1985 Graduate Fellow


Whether working for a private firm or in the public interest law sector, Lorie Chaiten has always been committed to fighting for justice and equality. This commitment has driven her to become a leader in her field as the Director and Legal Counsel of the Reproductive Rights Project of the Roger Baldwin Foundation of the ACLU of Illinois. Now a major figure in legal aid and reproductive rights at the state and national level, her career began as a PILI Fellow at LAF in 1985, focused on impact litigation.

“My experience as a PILI Fellow gave me the opportunity to see impact litigation in a legal services setting first hand,” she said. “Most importantly, it introduced me to some of the leading social justice litigators in Chicago.” Her fondest memories of her Fellowship are the conversations she had with her mentors about their experiences and views on social justice.

After graduating from The Ohio State University College of Law and completing her PILI Fellowship, Lorie went to work at Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal (now Dentons) because of their pro bono program and their partnership with the ACLU as their general counsel.

“I was privileged to work for 16 years at a private firm that supported my PILI Fellowship as well as untold numbers of pro bono hours on numerous reproductive rights cases,” Lorie said.

During her time at the firm, Lorie specialized in complex commercial litigation and volunteered as co-counsel with the ACLU’s Reproductive Rights Project. The ACLU’s Reproductive Rights Project seeks, through litigation, public education and legislative and regulatory advocacy, to make certain that all have access to safe and effective contraception, sexuality education and information, reproductive technologies, prenatal care, childbearing assistance and safe, legal and accessible abortion. Their advocacy seeks to ensure that women can participate equally in the professional, academic and social spheres of society and that they and their families have the rights and resources that make such participation possible.

Serving as pro bono co-counsel, Lorie fought on behalf of women’s rights in several important cases, including Ragsdale v. Turnock, which challenged laws attempting to impose unnecessary and onerous requirements on reproductive health care clinics; Zbaraz v. Hartigan, which challenged an Illinois law requiring minors to notify their parents before seeking an abortion; and Hope Clinic v. Ryan, which challenged Illinois’ partial birth abortion law.

In 2001, Lorie joined the staff at the ACLU in her current position as the Director of the Reproductive Rights Project. She continues demanding justice in the court room, working on such cases as Kaukab v. Harris, in which they sued on behalf of a Muslim American woman who was strip-searched at O’Hare International Airport shortly after 9/11 because she refused to remove her hijab in public; National Abortion Federation v. Gonzales, which challenged the Federal “Partial Birth Abortoin Ban” Act; and Preterm v. Kasich, challenging a series of abortion restrictions under the Ohio Constitution. She also worked on several cases that challenged the Illinois Parental Notice of Abortion Act on the state and federal level.

Lorie is also involved in several advocacy campaigns, including the Illinois Reproductive Health and Justice Campaign, seeking to pass affirmative legislation to secure reproductive justice in Illinois; the Put Patients First Initiative, to secure protections for patients in the face of refusals to provide health care based on the religious beliefs of the health care provider; and many other campaigns addressing health care access, sexual health education, supporting pregnant and parenting women, and protecting survivors of domestic violence.

She is also helping educate a new generation of lawyers on the issues.  She teaches a Reproductive Health and Justice Seminar at The University of Chicago Law School, and has taught in the Medical Ethics and Humanities Program at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.

Lorie has been recognized for her work and leadership in the field, most recently receiving the 2016 Planned Parenthood of Illinois’ Dr. Marvin Rosner Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2014 ACLU of Illinois’ Edwin A. Rothschild Civil Liberties Award and the 2012 Chicago Foundation for Women Impact Award. In 1995, she also received PILI’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

A strong force in the fight for justice, Lorie has dedicated her life to improving access to reproductive healthcare for women in Illinois. While the community is extremely grateful for her and her work, she is also grateful for her career path that started with a PILI Fellowship. “I have been quite fortunate!” she says.

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