Saturday, July 28, 2007

Is that often generally true?

In the 23 June 2007 New Yorker, Surowiecki writes "People believe that bigger and heavier cars are safer in a crash (forgetting that, often, bigger cars are also more likely to crash).". See it here.

What does it mean for it often to be true that bigger cars are more likely to crash?

If a is more likely than b, does it need to be said that a is often more likely than b? To me it says something different. It says that in some circumstances a is more likely than b. It implies that those circumstances are somehow relevant or important, because otherwise the first (a more likely than b) implies the second (often, a is more likely than b).

Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a mole-hill. In fact, I'm sure I am. But it caught my eye.

Why couldn't he just write "forgetting that bigger cars are also more likely to crash"? Why add the "often"?

A Commenter and My Response: Religion and Morality?

A while back Adam commented to my Blog Against Theocracy post. He referred to a WaPo article by Gerson here.

Basically, I think the argument in the article a red herring. His point is that we need God because without a deity to whose rules we attempt to adhere, we won't be moral. Or at least that's what I get his point to be.

And I say hogwash. Let's assume there is a god. I don't believe humanity has shown any overall tendency to become better or more moral. Truly, civilizations have evolved, technology has advanced, and our physical form has changed. But do we kill each other at a lower rate, or over more noble causes? Do we steal from each other less? Heck, an argument can probably be made that the level of exploitation has risen as civilizations has "progressed". Correlating improvements in human morality (if there are any) with the existence of a deity seems just as much a leap of faith as assuming the deity exists. It's rather question begging.

Now, on the other hand, assume God doesn't exist. How do humans evolve social niceties? I suggest it can be possible for the very reasons Gerson poo-poos: societal demands. Dworkin's selfish gene captures this nicely at one level (it's not "smart" for a creature to kill its kin folk) and common sense catptures it at another (what society is going to host a rude person -- other than a society where that rude person has all the power?).

So I can see how the existence of a deity is a useful tool for steering the evolution of morality, but I can't see how it's necessary or even likely.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

My Blog Against Theocracy

The list of other blogs is here, but I was told to link to so I did :-). And shout out to A Bird and A Bottle, where I saw mention of this.

Anyway, I'll keep it short and simple (rare for me). Theocracy, I know instinctively, fits no where in my grand plan, my grand project. As I got to in one of my first (and, sadly, few) posts on my main project, it seems like people ought to relate to one another on the basis of aptitudes and interests and respect. Why ought they do so? Well, fine, maybe because God says so. Or the Gods say so. But you know what? That's as far as one needs to go.

If you need to use religion to justify and explain why the right way to behave is, indeed, the right way to behave, then you're more than welcome to do so. But understand that others may not need to resort to religion to justify their behavior. Or they may not resort to your religion. Or they may not need to resort to any justification at all.

Your religion may be fascinating. We may want to talk with you about it. We may even solicit an invitation to partake of it. But for god's sake (heh!), we probably don't. And we certainly don't want to live according to all the extra rules and regulations and myths and fables that your religion has.

Use your religion, if you must, to ensure you're just and respectful. But remember that being just and respectful does not require you to foist other doctrine on me! People were good long before any of today's religions existed, and they'll be good long after the last practitioners decay away.

So, I pray, keep your religion out of my government. And I'll keep my government out of your religion.

Friday, April 6, 2007

A biological element of morality?

On 22 March 2007, the New York Times ran this article (behind the Select firewall, accessible if you have a .edu email address) In Brain Injury Said to Affect Moral Choices, Benedict Carey wrote about the discovery that brain damage to a particular part of the brain affected the moral or ethical decisions people made.

Basically, the utilitarian aspect of their mind continues to function: they'd let one person die if it meant saving five. And it seemed to preserve some sense of moral hierarchy: they wouldn't send a daughter to the porn industry to fend of poverty, and wouldn't kill a child that they couldn't care for (I'm not inclined to think either of those decisions are actually right, but that's what both individuals with the injury and without the injury similarly decided).

It did, however, seem to destroy the distinction between doing and allowing: those with the injury were far more likely than healthy people to actually directly kill one person to save five or to kill a crying baby to save a hiding group from discovery and death.

This distinction between doing and allowing is troubling to me because it shows some kind of superiority -- it's okay for someone to kill that crying baby, but I can't bring myself to do it.

The article quotes one of the injured people as saying with horror that he realized he'd become "a killer". So it's not just that normal people find it harder to kill a baby or murder one person to save five than they do to let the baby die or indirectly cause the death of one person to save the lives of five. It's also that all the people in the study regard those who would kill directly as "killers" and don't so regard those who would let people die.

Such condemnation is still universal, and thus either originates in another part of the brain or originates in society and is stored in another part of the brain. The behavioral aversion is not universal -- it's traced directly to the injured part of the brain. Those people with the injury now have a mental process that lets them kill, even as they are aware that killing is bad.

It's an interesting mapping -- it seems to say that the utilitarian cost-benefit analysis mechanism is distinct from the deontological behavior assessment mechanism, and that both are in effect in healthy people. It also seems to say that our ability to pass judgment on others for their actions, or at least to feel shame for our own actions, is distinct from the mechanism that assesses the value of those actions. If they were the same process, I would assume that the injured people wouldn't feel bad about what they did -- they would have lost both processes.

Anyway, it's interesting. And I'm blathering.

But when I try and fit it in with a class I took a while back on cognitive neuroscience, I get caught up in the possibilities. I'm captivated by the idea that this aspect of morality is neurological and akin to senses like depth perception, the ability to see curves, the ability to recognize faces, the ability to associate words and images, and various other particular abilities that have been traced to parts of the brain via similar studies.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Am I Getting Better, Or Is He Getting Worse?

Comedy Central's been running The Blue Collar Comedy Tour and all of its offshoots a lot lately. Those offshoots include The Blue Collar Comedy Tour Rides Again (or something like that) and specials with each of the stars of the tour. I actually find a lot of it pretty dang funny. You have to say 'dang', because it's all southern themed humour. I have to add the gratuitous 'u', because I spent a few years in the UK and it just flies off my keyboard.

I'm particularly keen on Ron White, probably because he goes through a full flask of whisky (I leave off the 'e' because I spent some time in Scotland) while he's on stage. I just like that. And there's something about his delivery and his stories that just appeals. One of my favorites punchlines is also the title of his book I Had the Right to Remain Silent...But I Didn't Have the Ability. It reflects an understanding of reality with which many reproductive rights advocates can identify.

Anyway, the point is, I actually had to mute him the last time I watched him each time he started to speak about his wife or ex-wife (who I believe are the same people). The gender stereotypes that pervaded his banter just rubbed me the wrong way and came off sounding a lot more like hate speech than like humour.

Am I becoming more attuned to how what we allow ourselves to listen to says about who we may allow ourselves to become, or am I just being overly sensitive?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Human Ethics v. Actual Ethics

In my last post, a mere 12 or so hours ago, I tried to make the point that in the sciences, or at least the hard sciences like physics, chemistry, and biology, there is an obvious distinction between human truth and actual truth. Actual truth is what really is. It may be finite, it may be infinite (I think it's infinite in the sense that it's ultimately unknowable to human). It may be dynamic and it may be static (I think that because it's infinite that distinction falls away). I don't think it's self-contradictory because I don't think that our human logic and understanding can encompass the actual truth.

In other words, given that it's beyond our understanding, we constantly observe elements of absolute truth and incorporate those observations into the human truth. When those observations seem to contradict each other, what we really mean is that they're contradicting the human model of the actual. So we readjust our model. We never, ever, readjust the actual. Because we can't. This sense of readjustment is what I refer to when I say that we're part of the actual, we interact with it and live within it, but we don't control it. Perhaps we contribute to what is and what is not, but I don't believe we have the ability to determine how that contribution works. Or, at a higher level, we can't decide how we decide how that contribution works.

Now I'd like to take a stab at applying this seemingly uncontroversial notion (I can't be the first to have articulated it, although maybe the first to articulate it this poorly!) to the efforts of philosophers. Philosophers bandy about different notions of what a good life is, and what type of ethical system we have. Our options seem to generally include two broad options. The first set of options includes those based around a single principle, unqualified or barely qualified. For example, utilitarianism holds that we ought to act in such a way that we maximize the aggregate welfare of humanity (other such consequentialist approaches might look at other results of our actions and say that we're responsible for them: some might look to the aggregate welfare of all sentient beings, others might say say that we should minimize all suffering, or aggregate suffering, etc). On the other hand, the other set includes a broad list of principles or obligations or duties that humans ought to obey. This includes deontological approaches that are often based around a list of duties that we are obligated to obey and value ethics, which holds that human beings, not their actions, should be the basis for moral judgment.

There are distinctions that can be drawn between different ethical theories based on whether they examine the essence of a human, a human's adherence to a set of obligations, or the results of human's behavior. At some point, I put forth, these all require proffering a list of requirements, or definitions, or exceptions, or caveats. Utilitarianism is often praised as 'simple' because we only have to do one thing, and that is maximize aggregate welfare. But what is welfare, how do we aggregate it, and how do we know if we're maximizing it? Trying to answer those questions can lead us down at least two paths. On the first, we analyze humanity and humans, reflecting on what makes us happy, or what pleases us, or is in our best welfare. We think back on decisions we've made, and what we would have done differently if we had known of all the consequences, and what we would do in some idealized hypothetical. Or we can take the second path, and try and determine what is best for us in some absolute sense, independently of what we ourselves would have done.

The former, I say, is just a proxy for the latter. We analyze ourselves because we have no other frame of reference for good or for bad. We're akin to the scientists, trying to understand the actual truth of the universe by modeling it with human truth. Philosophers who practice this form of reflection are doing the same -- they are seeking an absolute truth, but one that they will either never find (because the universe is infinite) or that they will be pretty damn unlikely to find (because human truth is still so far from actual truth in so many other domain, and philosophy and ethics are handicapped by observing what we might consider much more dynamic and complicated systems than chemists and physicists). Let me expand on the last bit of that parenthetical. Physical systems are so immensely complicated we call them chaotic. We know that even if we knew all the inputs into the weather, or into the wobble of a particular piece of jello, or into the development of a fetus into an embryo, we would have to know all of them to an impossible precision in order to determine what the result would be. In other words, it's not just that there are an infinite number of inputs into every aspect of the universe, it's that it is not sufficient to know roughly what the values of those inputs are -- we need to know every last infinite detail about every last infinite input. Sure, I can tell you what will happen if I clap my two hands together. I'll make a noise. I'll feel the pressure of one hand o n the other. But depending on the speed of the clap, the position of my hands when they meet each other, the size of my hands, the shape of my hands when they meet, the temperature, my altitude, and any number of other variables the noise will vary and the sensation will vary. And which cells of my left hand will flake off, and which specs of dirt will be jostled from my right hand? And which dust in the air will be moved up, and which down? Roughly, I can predict what will happen. My hands will meet and I'll hear a noise. Precisely -- I couldn't tell you what would happen until it happened. And even then, so many things will have happened that it'd be impossible to list them all.

And yet, ethicists seek a unified theory of absolute moral truth. I say there is no such thing. There may be an absolute moral truth. But it is no more susceptible to a simple human theory than the absolute physical truth. The absolute moral truth may be discernible locally, in specific instances, and from fixed contexts. But when we step back, when we good at the general truth, and when we vary our perspective, we'll find contradictions and complexity.

The best we can do is what the physical scientists have done. We can explicitly assume a particular scope, assume a particular perspective, and then define a coherent system given those restrictions. Those systems may be simple (euclidean geometry is based on 7 clear assumptions) and thus appeal to utilitarians and their fear of complication and uncertainty. Or they may be fraught with variability and caveats (I believe that much of modern physics is based on the idea of a single function that we hold to be true. But the function has many variables, all of which depend on each other and vary so as to make the function true. This could be considered analogous to an ethical system with lots of caveats and exceptions.).

Friday, March 23, 2007

knowledge and evolution -- asymptotitc understandings

It is easy to combine the notions of what is true with the notion of what humans perceive to be true. I believe that they are likely different, and that acknowledging and understanding that difference may help us in our efforts to discover the two related but different truths -- the actual truth and the human truth.

If we look at the natural world, the actual world, there is very little that is a matter of absolutes, as we perceive them. By absolute, I mean something that admits no qualification, at least not within a given context. For example, that 1+1 is the same as 2 is absolutely true (given a specification of what + means, and what mathematical system we're operating in, etc). But, in fact, this absolute truth is not an actual truth, it is a human truth. We have defined 1+1 to be 2. It is an attempt to model the real world phenomenon that if I have a thing, and take another thing, now there are two of them. But if I have one pile of rice, and I dump another pile of rice onto it, I don't actually have two piles of rice -- I have one bigger pileof rice. And although that bigger pile of rice is in some ways equivalent to twice the two earlier piles, there are many ways in which 1+1=1 (for example, the rice is no whiter) or the bigger pile is otherwise not at all the 'sum' of the earlier piles (for example, it is likely neither twice as high nor taking up twice as much of the surface on which it rests).

This does not discomfort or confuse us, at least not most of us. We are fully able to understand that combining two piles into one pile creates a pile with twice as many items, and that that's all we mean. The instances where it doesn't, where the items may react with each other, well that's because of physical and chemical properties of the items involved, and their environment, and the method of combining. We have theories and models and even laws or rules for all of these things. In other words, we understand that in the real world sometimes we have scenarios where combining, two things, even identical things, results not merely in two of those things, but sometimes leaves us only with one of them (for example, observing the lights are out and then observing again that the lights are out doesn't, at some level, mean the lights are doubly out), and sometimes it leaves us with something completely different.

Mathematicians have developed a broad field for modeling and codifying all of our observations. Most humans can't plow much of that field, and many of us probably can't even keep our balance in parts of that field even if we were to have a guide, but the mathematicians who work that patch of the field are able to grow a number of fascinating raw materials, and are able to provide chemists and physicists and biologists the resources to craft wonderful applications. Those scientists, in turn, generate ample amounts of byproduct that fertilize the field, and sometimes even help remove obstacles and thus expose further parts of the field.

But my point is not the analogy, my point is the cycle, the approximation. Mathematicians and scientists are developing human understanding. In many cases, the rest of humanity blithely accepts that these models run counter to our intuition, although it may be that over time our intuition incorporates these new models. But we are no longer as reluctant to accept models that are counter-intuitive as we were hundred or thousands of years ago -- relativity did not result in Galilean treatment for Einstein, and quantum theory did not have political ramifications for its proponents (so far as I am aware!).

In any case, we accept these developments. And we operate according to them, building computers, designing bridges, flying aircraft, mixing colors, growing food. We operate according to them because they are good enough. But we have always done this -- lived according to the extent that our knowledge was good enough. Pre-historic humanity did not 'need' to know that the earth was not flat, because they didn't travel vast distances and had little need to contemplate the issue. Eighteenth century humans did not need to know about quantum effects because they weren't manipulating material at atomic or subatomic levels. Of course, had they known about such things they might have used such knowledge, but it would be unreasonable to expect them to have it.

This does not mean that actual truth then differed from actual truth now. It's possible that human awareness or contemplation of the earth's roundness caused it to be round, and that our studying of antibiotics caused them to exist and have the properties they have, but I believe that actual truth is independent of human existence. That's not to say it's a static truth and that humans have no effect on it, but we interact with it and live within it -- think of us as fish in the ocean, at least in some ways.

What it means is that human truth evolves as humanity evolves. Whether it's due to the selfish gene, the selfish meme, or the selfish humanity, the point is that our sense of what is true is an approximation of what is absolutely true. It is probably an ever improving approximation, but it is also probably asymptotic at best.

That last point is not necessary, and reflects my belief that the universe is infinite and of such a nature that almost everything we currently consider impossible (i.e., contrary to human intuition and current human truth) exists somewhere (or did exist, or will exist) and in such a way that it does not conflict with current human truth but is revealed to be complementary to them.

For example, early human truth held that the world was flat. This was reinforced by the development of euclidean geometry, which dealt with planes and lines and, basically, farmers' fields. When planning trails, dividing acreage, and laying out buildings, it is perfectly sufficient to model a flat world (although it's a wonder theoretical non-euclidean geometry did not develop in societies that lived in very hilly country, considering the practical work they did on 'spheres'). It's only when we move to an era of global travel and where we consider the larger cosmos from a practical perspective that we realize that the earth is round(ish) and that lines we had long considered parallel will, in fact, converge. And that all lines of equal length must converge.

But locally, on my desk, in my town, even within my state, I have no particular need to make use of non-euclidean geometry. For any small enough subset of this non-euclidean world, euclidean truth is good enough for me. It is in that sense that I think human truth will always evolve and improve -- what we know hold to be universally true will often turn out to be a special case, or an approximation.

The result, of course, is that we have two very different truths. An actual truth that reflects reality in all its diversity, that encompasses all we understand and all we can't, and a human truth that is locally quite elegant but that displays jagged discontinuities and gaps. Without suggesting that actual reality is 'continuous' or 'smooth' in the way that humans thinks of those words, I do want to suggest a model of turning flat pieces of paper into a sphere. With one sheet of paper you get gaps and bends and holes. As you use more and more smaller and smaller pieces of flat paper to approximate the sphere, you get a better approximation. But it's never an actual sphere, not matter how good it is for us. This is the struggle of humanity to make human truth correspond to actual truth.

All of this is to set the ground for why we totally screw up in philosophy by constantly referring to human understanding and human intuition as a check against ethical theories.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

LSFC National Conference Notes

This is a very long post -- all my notes from the conference last weekend.

Fun Stuff

  • The wine tour was amazing, and hopefully I’ll update this with some wine tasting notes, when and if I find them. Or I’ll make new ones based on the 3 lovely bottles I bought.
  • Although I didn’t buy an olive tree (others did!) I did buy some olives that were gorgeous.
  • Marie Kobler and I did a booty-rocking ice breaker. And kudos to everyone for joining in.
  • I managed to meet some fantastic people – smart, fun, interesting, engaged, and engaging. It’s easy to get bogged down in the daily grinds of life and law school, but it’s heartening to know that no matter the level of engagement (whether I make a career in reproductive rights, do it pro-bono, or volunteer when I can) I’m part of a movement and love the people who are taking it forward.

Saturday, 10 March: Keynote by Anat Shenker-Osorlo (Real-Reason)

  • I missed too much of this because of setup and workshop duties, but I liked what I caught
  • She spoke a lot about framing and mental models
    • Think of the difference between speaking of ‘from shore to shore’ and ‘from coast to coast’. They can be the same, but the shore has images of the ocean, and perhaps even a transoceanic voyage. The coast has images of land, and perhaps a transcontinental voyage. Not all the time and not to everyone, but these images will be strongly resonant with particular populations.
    • Another example is with education. We used to speak of education in terms of nature and gardens: cultivating understanding, nurturing children, planting the seeds of future development, etc. Now we speak in terms of business and the factory: aligning inputs to produce outputs necessary for success, testing results to ensure common quality standards
    • This language shift has an impact: in education, it’s make it more difficult for advocates of music and arts education to convey the significance of their programs in the new frame
    • Also, when we speak in terms of nature, we’re comfortable with processes that are organic and procedures
  • In a massive survey that was undertaken, it turns out that there aren’t the traditional 4 groups vis a vis abortion (strongly opposed, against, in favor, strongly in favor) but there are closer to 8 groupings (what are they?)
  • Many groups, particularly those of color and those that are male, respond to the complexity of the issue and react positively when the discussion is framed in terms of ‘letting people decide’ and ‘personal decisions about a public right’. Those are my words – the words that the survey collected are actually long, complex, paragraphs and sentences… the subject does not lend itself to pithy slogans if you want to capture the complexity.
  • Again, we shouldn’t do a search and replace on ‘choice’ – that’s how we’ve defined ourselves and how others see us. But we can expand beyond it.
  • Some see the question as being not about choice but about power – who has it and who can exercise it
  • We can frame this, again, in terms of decision making – it’s about the process of deciding.
    • Having enough information
    • Having support for the decision you make
    • Have others, and the government, respect your decision
  • Mutual empathy is key here – if we want those who disagree with us to empathize with us, we need to empathize with their disagreement. Understand that it’s real, that it’s understandable and not wrong that they don’t believe in absolutes – respect complexity.

Saturday, 10 March: New Human Genetic Technologies: Considerations, Concerns, and Consequences for Reproductive Justice. Emily Galpern and Osagie Obasogie (Center for Genetics and Society)

  • I sent an email to the NYU group about doing programming with them
  • They often run a half day or even 2-day course on this, so the hour+ was quite condensed
  • In light of the opening keynote, it was interesting that they used ‘choice’ a lot in the slides they tailored for us. But it was also interesting that their main argument could be reframed in terms of decision making. They seem to be against the popularization or commercialization of a number of new technologies, but largely because they think they’re untested and the ramifications of how these technologies are being deployed have not been thought through. Basically, my takeaway is that they don’t think the average person is yet able to make an informed decision. Perhaps once more studies have been done and the implications of various procedures are better understood, they’ll advocate for informed decision making (choice, if you will)
  • They have case studies they’ll make available for groups to use
    • A billboard in harlem soliciting egg donations for various experiments (but not IVF)
    • Insurance companies treating genetic propensities as pre-existing conditions
    • A maid hired to be a surrogate mother
      • This relates to a question I asked about the intersection of race and class and genetic technology – NYC is already rife with ‘nannies of color’ pushing around strollers full of white babies. Why not have them bear the kids as well?
    • Ads offering $80,000 for Ivy-Leage eggs for IVF.

Saturday, 10 March: The Doctors, The Lawyers, and the Supremes. Dr. Eleanor Drey (Women’s Options Center, SF General Hospital), Priscilla Smith (of CRR, great friend of LSFC), Professor Pam Karlan (Stanford Law School), Louise Melling (ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project)

  • this panel had great energy. The comraderie among the panelists was astounding. I realized that I was starting to have that with fellow LSFCers, and loved the realization.
  • My notes aren’t too great, as there was some proctoring work.
  • They spoke largely about the federal abortion ban cases, the arguments that worked in the lower courts, how they tried to tailor arguments for Kennedy, and what it was like, for Priscilla, to go in front of the court.
    • Apparently there was a heckler in the court that day!
      • Roberts gave her an extra ’30 seconds’ and they’re not sure she got it all… but it was a lengthy disturbance
    • The main argument was that it banned too many abortions, even in 2nd semester. And even if not, it didn’t have health exception for 3rd trimester.
    • Kennedy strategy: more medical evidence. Allow him to cast earlier decision (he had made vehement dissent in state abortion ban case) as reasonable but to change his mind based on extra evidence. And to show that not changing his mind wouldn’t be reasonable.
  • Karlan: Law usually doesn’t trap you. In the trial, doctors were used to show that the abortion ban meant that a doctor could begin to perform an abortion, with no intent of violating the federal law, but midway through the procedure be compelled by medical ethics to use a procedure that violated the law. That points to the vagueness of the law and intrusion into doctor-patient relationship. Think Legal Services Corp v. Valasquez – which tried to tell lawyers they couldn’t raise constitutional claims when pressing welfare claims with federal money. Court said you couldn’t undermine lawyers who might not know the best way to argue a case until they were into it. Kennedy wrote that opinion!
    • The analogy is clear – and the law is vague in how it conflicts with medical ethics.
    • For example, she pointed out that you don’t realize half way through an armed robbery that you’ve committed a crime, you know from the outset. But with abortions, you might have to switch procedures and suddenly find yourself on the wrong side of the law.
  • Doctors also used to provide cover for Kennedy – to medicalize the discussion.
  • Also had to deal with congressional findings and tradition of deference. Litigation is to remind the court that they have often struck down laws based on findings that are idiotic.
    • What about the deference? Previous congressional action was generally limited to DC (1970’s) and spending clause. Spending clause needs pretty much no fact finding. But this in Congress using its commerce clause powers. It’s not 14th Am going after the life of a fetus b/c that is facial challenge to Roe. So it’s commerce clause. But congress has no expertise in this realm. Heart of Atlanta can be about accommodation and economy. Or even VAWA: about effects of fear on economy. But congress has _no_ findings on the relevance to the economy.
    • But congress explicitly said jury will make case by case determination of interstate commerce. Congress didn’t find that the law generally relates to interstate commerce.
  • Dr. Drey: these ‘women’ are her patients – not a percentage. Would doctors be forced to ‘consent’ a woman to the dijoxyn(?) feticidal agent in order to protect the _doctors_ from lawsuit.
    • BK: Is it like SCOTUS talking about psych and soc. research?
  • Different scenarios were discussed
    • 4-4-1 split, with kennedy coming down one way or the other
    • Slam dunks either way
    • If the decision is that it’s not for the feds to say, but that a state can do it with proper exemptions, would that lead to an expensive state strategy?
    • Court could read in intent about the exact medical procedure that Congress ‘must’ have meant. This would cover Intact D&E. And it would have to have a carve-out for a health exception.
  • Question from the audience, Reva Siegel, about creating wedge issues from a progressive perspective
    • Under which circumstances and whose decisions – rape victim’s bill of rights might out people who are against it as wanting to punish women.
    • Guaranteed EC, for example, might allow anti-choicers to see who’s hardcore/intolerant/women-pay-for-their-behavior and who believes in some exceptions and is looking out for people’s health.
    • Think of the innocence movement in capital punishment and how it actually broadened the anti-death penalty movement and didn’t weaken it.
  • If women are only to have the abortions they need – who decides what they need?
  • Could the feds enact a Solomon like amendment and deny funding to institutions that teach abortions. The panel didn’t want to nightmare about that. But any abortion ban bill clearly has implications for teaching hospitals and medical schools, which are generally risk averse. Such laws might serve to eliminate trained providers in a generation.

Saturday, 10 March: Prisoners’ Priorities for Reproductive Justice. Brigitte Amiri (ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project) and Robin Levi (Justice Now)

· BA: many cases about prison’s impeding access to abortions. They fight that instance, and the underlying policy

o Arizona case as exemplar

§ Sherriff claimed to be ‘toughest in america

§ Took 7 weeks from when P notified prison authorities until when she wanted it

· Procedure is now a 2 day, riskier process

· She’s devastated, showing harms from stress, etc

§ ACLU got it from regional affiliate

· Got TRO

· Then got her the abortion

· Got the underlying policy changed

· Arizona appellate court affirmed

· Sherriff and county seeking review by state supreme court

· Could also appeal to SCOTUS, b/c case was won on federal grounds

o Missouri case

§ Applied to entire state prison system

§ Got class certification, which avoided it becoming moot

· (Arizona has no mootness requirement)

o Public education – not every case goes to trial

§ Women don’t give up reproductive rights when they go to prison

o 8th Amendment and 14th are generally there claims

§ Johnson v. CA (2006?) is a reasonable review style for policies that are consistent with incarceration. Less deference for policies not related to incarceration (this was the case about segregation in temporary housing) (Originally articulated in Turner)

§ Basic argument is that reproductive rights are not like rights of association and travel – rep. rights is like medical treatment and is not incompatible with incarceration.

§ Prisons also often compare incarcerated adult women to free teens and say that if judicial bypass can be required for teens, why not for inmates? Response is basically that there is a clear judicial distinction

§ 8th amendment claim:

· Serious medical needs.

· Standard is deliberate indifference

· They argue that 1 of 3 things will happen

o Miscarry

o Carry to term

o Self-induced

Either way, you need medical treatment and thus you’re require d

· 3rd Circuit: Monmouth Co. (NJ) v. Lanzaro 834 F.2d 326 – 1987. 3rd Cir.

o Great language!

o Says prison must fund, transport, etc

o Pre-Casey (1992)

o 14th and 8th

· Victoria W. v. Larfander? (5th 369 F.3d 475) 2004.

o Bad case L

o This distinguished between court ordered release and absolute bans

§ Aclu contends they’re the same, b/c of course prison has to obey a court order

o No other case has adopted this reasoning

· Robin Levi

o Robin didn’t speak much about this, but in addition to the woman from SisterSong at the closing keynote, she was the other ‘radical’ I heard speak. She believes in the complete abolition of prison as we know it.

o ‘people’ in women’s prisons

§ Not all identify as women

o 60-70% there for non violent crimes, largely drugs and check fraud(!)

o many women of color – latina rate is twice that of whites, black is 6 times

o pregnant women get no prenatal care, essentially: maybe some extra milk or fruit. But, for example, no pre-natal vitamins, and they often have to pay for them.

o Long and heinous discussion of destruction of reproductive capacities

§ poor / damaging pre, post, and birthing care

§ imprisonment through reproductive years

§ involuntary / unnecessary hysterectomies and ovarectomies, ‘consensual sterilization’ (while under sedation, with financial inducement, all(!?) of women of color)

§ just like California’s historical eugenics in the 1970’s of Latinas, Mexicans in LA, Indians

§ utterly contrary to ACOG guidelines (American Committee of Gynecologists?)

§ utterly contrary to MediCal and Federal guidelines

§ utterly contrary to Article 16 of CEDAW.

o Action requests from RL

§ oppose more prison building

· redirect that funding to communities

· in response to questions: individual client always comes ahead of the movement, and you take a client victory by any means you can.

· statistics v. anecdotes

o are there statistics about women in prison? RL and JusticeNow are doing their own surveys, and they’re happy to have help or to offer help to groups that want to do the same in their own local prisons.

o need both à but do really need statistics

§ but with limited access to prison system, even the 60(!) survey answers that Robin Levi has gotten is huge!

§ Requested remedy is often statistics.

§ Holy grail in parenthood cases is number of children in foster care because parents are in prison

· Center for Young Women’s Development – deals with juvenile justice – and seeing the same issues, if not worse.

· Abortions much more likely when guards are involved

· She has models of prison surveys

Sunday, 11 March: On the Books but Out of Reach, The Reality of Abortion Access. Jenny Blasdell (National Abortion Federation), Destiny Lopez (ACCESS), Tim Stanley (Planned Parenthood MN/ND/SD), Melanie Zurek (Abortion Access Project)


· some states restrict private insurance coverage of abortion

· TRAP laws – singling out abortion providers with special physical plant requirements or forcing them to have admitting privileges at hospitals (targeted regulation of abortion providers)

· FACE: freedom of access to clinic entrances

o Also Bubble buffers

Destiny Lopez: ACCESS/Women’s Health Rights Coalition – Oakland/California based

· 26%, 236,000, of CA women who became pregnant in 2000 had abortion

· CA abortion rate declined by 5% since 1996

· Costs range from 350-1000, just for medical procedure (not hotel and transport, etc)

o 2,360,000 in CA alone. Could do a hell of a lot for 2.5 million a year.

· Deficit Reduction Act of 2005: hits any state with medicare funding. People asking for coverage need to provide proof of citizenship.

Tim Stanley: PP of Minnesota, N. Dakota, and S. Dakota

· Wedge issues in the Dakotas: guaranteed EC/BC for all people – to reduce the number of abortions. Or a rape victim’s bill of rights. Something about

· Spoke about the vast distances that need to be covered

Melanie Zurek: Abortion Access Project in Cambridge Mass

· Spoke about getting Advanced Practice Clinicians (APC’s) lined up as abortion providers

· This has _greatly_ increased access in some areas

· Ask not if APC’s can legally provide abortions in your state. Ask if there is anything in the state statutes or practice acts that prohibit an APC from providing an abortion. Prevention First Act…

· AAP partners with attorney – it doesn’t have any

A question was about lobbying w/out party support, this is true in the PP states that Tim covers – the democratic party does not address abortion. He said you still have to make it worth the while of politicians and show them they’ll win votes.

What we can do?

· visit national network of abortion funds (project Haven)

· As lawyers and law students: boards / volunteers for clinics and family planning centers. Serve as guardians ad litem. Forge alliances. Escort.

Sunday, 11 March: LSFC National Meeting

· call for a 3rd, broad, wave of schools to have reproductive rights courses

o LSFC has a model curriculum – it’s on the website, quite cool

§ BK has a printed copy

o May be working on a casebook

o ‘beta’ tested it at a few schools

o Did a broader launch

o Now ready to work with anyone who’s interested in bringing it to their campus

o May be a multi-year effort at any given campus

o Can also work with students interested in crafting an independent study or reading group

· Call for people to be on the board

o Very much a student led board

o More emails from national will follow about this

· National and the Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom

o They funded a number of full scholarships to the conference

o They will help facilitate religious and spiritual based programs with local LSFC chapters

o I have contact info for Emily Goodstein – or go on the web

Sunday, 11 March: Keynote Panel

· Jessica Arons, Center for American Progress

o I missed most of this, but I believe it was very much about mainstreaming reproductive rights and reproductive health and making it part of the standard progressive agenda

o Wants us to talk about the ‘ability’ to have a family or not, not the ‘right’

o Some talk about the roles and obligations of government

§ What they do when I buy a plane ticket

· Make sure I’m not paying too much

· Keep the airlines in business

· Make sure I’m safe

· Give me recourse if something goes wrong

§ Why don’t they do this when I have a reproductive health issue


· Rocio Cordoba (California Latinas for Reproductive Justice)

o Showcased a video that aired in California (and elsewhere) that effectively showcased the many facets and strengths of a diverse group of women (and, implicitly, all women)

o Point was to show that women already are responsible for so many things in life, why can’t they be responsible for their own reproductive health decisions

o Questions about how this will play to, for example, gay men

o – women are: strong, knowing, wise, busy


o It’s contextual

§ Health, family, community, faith, individual

· Ted Miller (NARAL Pro-Choice America)

o Had lots of statistics on polling

o I missed a lot of this

· Loretta Ross (SisterSong)

o One of the only speakers I heard who I’d consider truly radical (Robin Levi of Justice Now is the other)

o Invited us all to their national conference – which she referred to as the world’s biggest orgy

o Coined the term “reproductive justice” and feels a sense of ownership – it refers to reproductive rights as a human right

§ ‘Reproductive justice’ is not a drop in replacement for ‘choice’. They’re different and both are important

o 8 types of human rights

§ Civil

§ Political

§ Economic

§ Social

§ Cultural

§ Environmental

§ Developmental

§ Sexual

o Will work with groups on local (city/state) ratification of CEDAW!