Jessica Hoffman, a family law student clinician and juris doctor candidate slated to graduate in December, is an active contributor on the national Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) scene.
She recently produced a session for the ABA’s Family Law section’s Las Vegas conference, and has been asked to help plan and produce another this fall – her fourth for the section. But despite her work earning national recognition, her fight for the cause began on a much more personal stage.
“A dear friend of mine suffered from infertility, and I helped her through the emotional and financial hurdles infertile women face,” Hoffman said. Hoffman’s friend eventually became pregnant, but died when she was four months along because of her body being unable to handle the physical stress of the pregnancy. Not long after her friend’s death, Hoffman faced another life-altering disappointment — her own fertility issues. Hoffman experienced several failed pregnancies in her attempts to carry a baby to term. After one health scare, Hoffman landed in the hospital. Her doctors told her to “prepare for the worst.”
“The first night, my husband and I had a long talk about our 11 years of wonderful experiences,” she said. “By the second night, the discussion turned into what I would do if I made it through the night. I said I wanted to honor my friend Rachel’s memory by using a surrogate to carry our baby.” Hoffman also told her husband she would become a lawyer and help others who faced the same intimidating legal hurdles of ART. “Surprisingly, my vitals started to improve the next day, and several months later I began law school,” Hoffman said.
She also found a willing surrogate in her husband’s sister, who carried their daughter, Lilly, to delivery. Lilly is now a healthy 10-month-old baby. Hoffman wants other women to have the same opportunities to experience childbirth, adoption, infertility treatments or surrogacy, and is working hard to protect them through her study of law at Florida Coastal.
“I worry that, someday, the community may have a vote on whether to allow women to use some forms of assisted reproductive technology,” Hoffman said, “and I want those strangers to think of me and my daughter — instead of the OctoMom.”
Hoffman began her studies in Professor Quince Hopkins’ Adoption course, and wrote her first paper about ART. Through her research, Hoffman said she realized there were very few ART legal counselors in Jacksonville — but a growing consortium around the country. She investigated attorneys and firms who were players on the national ART scene and discovered a serendipitous upcoming event — a committee of ART attorneys was meeting locally to brainstorm revisions to the ABA ART Model Act.
Hoffman decided to just show up and, upon arrival, realized the meeting was an intimate gathering of just 19 people. Undaunted, she scooted her chair up to the small conference table with confidence, and listened to the attendees — many of them authors of articles she had read in her ART research for Florida Coastal. The gathering included legal professionals, as well as fertility doctors and medical insurance specialists.
“I was sure I’d get kicked out!” Hoffman recalled. “But instead I was welcomed into a committee of people who were passionate about ART and creating the legal structure around it.” Through this experience, Hoffman is now helping reformat the Model Act. She is also an avid volunteer who raises her hand for any task.
“I have worked and shared meals with the people across the globe who are making ART possible. I feel so energized after these meetings and with the mentorship I receive, and I can’t wait until the next conference in the fall. The experience has been an invaluable networking opportunity for my career and a practical supplement to my legal education.”
Professor Hopkins called Hoffman’s story “fascinating.” “Here you have a burgeoning young professional who is on the cutting edge of this new field even before she graduates,” she said. “Most faculty do not have the honor to be asked by the ABA to be so involved in a committee, and almost never are students EVER (from any school) asked to participate in any ABA committee the way she has been.”