Terry McGovern, JD

  • Adjunct Professor in the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health
Profile Headshot


Terry McGovern currently serves as Harriet and Robert H. Heilbrunn Professor and Chair of the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health and the Director of the Program on Global Health Justice and Governance at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Ms. McGovern founded the HIV Law Project in 1989 where she served as its executive director until 1999. Ms. McGovern successfully litigated numerous cases against the federal, state and local governments including S.P. v. Sullivan which forced the Social Security Administration to expand HIV-related disability criteria so that women and other excluded individuals could qualify for Medicaid and social security, and T.N. v. FDA, which eliminated a 1977 FDA guideline restricting the participation of women of childbearing potential in early phases of clinical trials. As a member of the National Task Force on the Development of HIV/AIDS Drugs, she authored the 2001 federal regulation authorizing the FDA to halt any clinical trial for a life threatening disease that excludes women. From 2006 until 2012, she was Senior Program Officer in the Gender, Rights and Equality Unit of the Ford Foundation. Her research focuses on health and human rights, sexual and reproductive rights and health, gender justice, and environmental justice, with publications appearing in journals including Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, Health and Human Rights, and the Journal of Adolescent Health. Ms. McGovern recently co-edited Women and Girls Rising: Rights, Progress and Resistance: A Global Anthology. She has served on the Standing Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing and the UCL-Lancet Commission on Migration and Health, and currently serves as a member of the UNFPA Global Advisory Council and the UNAIDS Human Rights Reference Group.


Academic Appointments

  • Adjunct Professor in the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health

Credentials & Experience

Education & Training

  • BA, 1983 State University of New York at Albany
  • JD, 1986 Georgetown University

Committees, Societies, Councils

Member, Council on Foreign Relations, 2020-Present

Member, Global Advisory Council, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 2018-Present

Commissioner, Lancet Commission on Migration and Health, 2017-present

Commissioner, Lancet Commission on Adolescents, 2013-present

9/11 United Services Group Family Advisory Committee, 2002-2004

Founder/Executive Director, HIV Law Project, 1989-1999

Editorial Boards

Journal of Migration and Health

Honors & Awards

American Bar Association Alexander M. Forger Award for Sustained Excellence in HIV Legal Services and Advocacy, 2012

World Positive Leadership Award, 2012

AIDS United Inaugural Leadership Award, 2011

amFAR Courage Award for Advocacy, 2005

New York State Bar Association's Public Interest Award, 1996


Research Interests

  • Community Health
  • Global Health

Selected Publications

McGovern, T. & Ahmed, A. (2020). Equity in Health: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. In B. Meier & L.O. Gostin (Eds.), Foundations of Global Health & Human Rights.

McGovern, T., Schaaf, M., Battistini, E., Maistrellis, E., Gibb, K., & Casey S.E. (2020). From bad to worse: global governance of abortion and the Global Gag Rule. Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, 28:3. doi: 10.1080/26410397.2020.1794411

McGovern, T. (2020). US Global Gag Rule increases unsafe abortion. The Lancet, 396(10243): 24-25.

McGovern, T., Baumont, M., Parisi, V., Haerizadeh, S., Williams E., & Garbers, S. (2019). Association between plural legal systems and sexual and reproductive health outcomes for women and girls in Nigeria: A state-level ecological study. PLOS One, 14(10):e0223455.

Abubakar , I., Aldridge, R., Devakumar, D., Orcutt, M., Burns, R., Barreto, M., Dhavan, P., Fouad F., Groce, N., Guo, Y., Hargreaves, S., Knipper, M., Miranda, J., Madise, N., Kumar, B., Philos, D., McGovern, T., Rubenstein, L., Sammonds, P., Sawyer, S., Sheikh, K., Tollman, S., Spiegel, P., & Zimmerman, C. (2018). UCL-Lancet Commission on Migration and Health: The health of a world on the move. The Lancet, 392(10164), 2606-2654.

Patton, G.C., Sawyer, S.M., Santelli, J.S., Ross, D.A., Afi fi, R. , Allen, N.B., Arora, M., Azzopardi, P., Baldwin, W., Bonell, C., Kakuma, R., Kennedy, E., Mahon, J., McGovern, T., Mokdad, A.H., Patel, V., Petroni, S., Reavley, N., Taiwo, K., Waldfogel, J., Wickremarathne, D., Barroso, C., Bhutta, Z., Fatusi, A.O., Mattoo, A., Diers, J., Fang, J., Ferguson, J., Ssewamala, F., Viner, R.M. (2016). Our Future: A Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing. Lancet, 387: 2423-2478.

Chesler, E., & McGovern, T., Eds. (2015). Women and Girls Rising: Rights, Progress and Resistance: a Global Anthology. Routledge University Press: Kentucky, USA.

McGovern, T. (2013). No risk, no gain: invest in women and girls by funding organizing, advocacy, litigation and work to shift culture, Reproductive Health Matters, 21(42):86-102.

McGovern, T. (2000). Gender Equity in HIV/AIDS Clinical Trials. In Mayer, K. & Pizer, H., eds. The Emergence of AIDS: The Impact on Immunology, Microbiology and Public Health, 99-116. Washington DC: American Public Health Association.

McGovern, T. (1997). Mandatory HIV Testing and Treating of Childbearing Women: An Unnatural, illegal, and unsound approach. Columbia Human Rights Law Review. 28(3): 469-299.

Global Health Activities

Lancet Commission on Migration and Health: Working to examine the legal and human rights context for issues surrounding migration and health globally.

Assessing the Impact of the Expanded Global Gag Rule: Working on documenting the impact of the expanded Global Gag Rule in multiple countries on the health and wellbeing of women and health providers.

Proposed Methodology for SDG Indicator 5.6.2: Examined possible methodologies to critically assess the progress of SDG indicator 5.6.2., which seeks to measure the number of countries with laws and regulations that guarantee women aged 15-49 access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, information, and action.

Urban Health Activities

HIV Law Project: Prof. McGovern founded the HIV Law Project to provide civil legal representation to low-income HIV-positive persons. The Project offers legal services in the areas of housing, family law, immigration, financial benefits and discrimination. The project successfully challenged the Social Security's reliance on the restrictive CDC AIDS definition in S.P. v. Sullivan. The project also conducted large scale advocacy campaigns on behalf of women with HIV including challenging mandatory testing of women, The FDA's exclusion of women of childbearing potential from clinical trials and other policies that discriminated against low income HIV positive individuals.

Women's Health and Human Rights Initiative: Prof. McGovern works to broaden the understanding of the impact of fundamentalist violence and policies on women.