Final // The Success of Virginia Reproductive Health Legislation: A pilot study

Being finished with this project (at least for now!) is nice both because I’m finished for now and because for the first time in a while I actually get to pause and breathe and realize how much I’ve done.

Surprise, surprise, doing unstructured independent research is hard. I made it particularly tough for myself by choosing a topic completely outside my areas of academic expertise. I’ve been involved in reproductive health activism, but I’ve never taken a relevant GSWS class or a government course on any subject. I’ve loved getting the chance to explore a new field, but encountered a number of roadblocks, especially at the beginning of the summer when I was trying to figure out how to frame my research.

In addition to not being familiar with the ways in which government research is conducted, I didn’t know much about the research that was already out there on related topics. I immersed myself in papers on legislative effectiveness, learning about how political scientists grade legislators (and also that, for some reason, the only example anyone can come up with of a commemorative bill is naming a post office?). I gradually worked my way down from an initial topic that could probably have been multiple dissertations to arrive at a project that was at least mostly doable in seven weeks.

I collected data and I collected data and I collected data, sifting through irrelevant bill after irrelevant bill (and often the same irrelevant bills over and over again – legislators are remarkably persistent) to find the pieces of legislation that actually met the criteria I’d laid out. I started analyzing my data, realized there wasn’t much analysis I could actually do, and cobbled together what I could from it. I cleaned up the notes I’d left for myself all over my spreadsheet and wrote up a description of how I’d collected my data it so that other people can hopefully use it as well. And then I wrote a brief paper, describing what I’d done as well as all of the things beginning-of-summer me thought would happen during these past couple months that now get to live in that lovely “recommendations for future research” section.