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Supreme Court hears cases on abortion and immigration referrals

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to rule on two initiatives by the Trump administration: one placing limits on a federal health program in an attempt to restrict access to abortion, and the other denying green cards to immigrants considered likely to make occasional use of public benefits like food stamps.

According to the court’s regular schedule, cases will be debated in the fall. But they might be moot by then, as President Biden has signaled that his administration is reconsidering both measures.

The abortion referral case concerns a program known as Title X, which helps poor women pay for birth control, preventive health screening for breast and cervical cancer, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

The program, established under a law enacted in 1970, prohibits federal grants from being “used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.” The precise meaning of these words is disputed and, over the years, it has been the subject of various interpretations by different administrations.

The Trump administration announced in 2019 that clinics receiving money under the program could not refer patients for abortions at other facilities. Leading medical associations have said this “gag rule” violates medical ethics, and Planned Parenthood has withdrawn from the program.

Several states, the American Medical Association and others have filed a lawsuit challenging the measure, and federal appeals courts in San Francisco and Richmond, Va., Have rendered conflicting decisions. These divisions often lead to review by the Supreme Court.

The cases the court agreed to consider – Cochran v. Mayor and Baltimore City Council, # 20-454, American Medical Association v. Cochran, # 20-429 and Oregon v. Cochran, # 20-539 – may become irrelevant if the Biden administration revises restrictive regulations of the Trump administration.

The Immigration Case, Department of Homeland Security v. New York, # 20-449, concerns the so-called public charge rule, which seeks to discourage some immigrants from using public services.

The Trump administration announced in 2019 that it would revise the rule, which allows officials to deny permanent legal status, also known as a green card, to immigrants who may be in need of public assistance. In the past, only substantial and sustained financial aid or long-term institutionalization counted, and less than 1% of applicants were disqualified for reasons of public office.

The administration’s revised rule broadened the criteria to include “non-cash benefits meeting basic needs such as accommodation or food” used every 12 months over a 36-month period. Using two types of benefits in a single month counts as two months, and so on.

Mr Biden called for a quick review of the measure. One of its goals, he said, was “to reduce fear and confusion among affected communities”.

In August, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City ruled against the Trump administration, saying the new program would cool participation in public services for those who are eligible.

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Biden wants more stable diplomacy. A fight against abortion is a test.

The Democratic House previously approved a measure to block the policy, also known by critics as the global gag rule, but it was blocked under Republicans in the Senate.

This month, Democrats regained control of the Senate for the first time since 2015 by the smallest of margins, with a 50-to-50 split and Vice President Kamala Harris able to break votes.

However, at least two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, also support legislation to end Mexico City politics permanently, meaning that “there could be a new window for make it happen, ”said Jen Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“I think everyone will agree, no matter what side, on the matter is that ping pong is a very difficult way to make this policy work,” Ms. Kates said, discussing the job. non-governmental organizations. “It doesn’t bring stability or predictability to NGOs, and it’s disruptive.”

Opponents of abortion rights also want the issue to become established law, but in a way that enshrines Mexico City’s policy of immediately preventing Mr. Biden and future presidents from supporting abortion providers in the United States. foreign.

Last month, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah revived a plan he had presented in previous terms of Congress to make the funding ban permanent. In a Feb. 3 speech to the Senate, he said there was a need to prevent politics from being “canceled and reinstated again and again between shifting administrations.”

“The lives of babies and the dignity of women are not political balloons,” said Mr. Lee. “All over the world, women and unborn children have immeasurable dignity and worth, regardless of their origin. And they should have the right to life and protection from harm – regardless of who holds the position. “

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The Supreme Court revives the restriction of abortion

The first drug, mifepristone, blocks the effects of progesterone, a hormone without which the lining of the uterus begins to break down. A second drug, misoprostol, taken 24 to 48 hours later, induces contractions in the uterus which expels its contents.

The contested measure requires women to come in person to pick up mifepristone and sign a form, even when they have already consulted their doctor remotely. Women can then take the medicine when and where they want. Women do not have to purchase misoprostol in person, and it is available at retail and mail order pharmacies.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups, all represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, have filed a lawsuit to suspend the requirement for women to travel to obtain the first drug in light of the pandemic. There was no good reason, according to the groups, to require a visit when the drug could be delivered or mailed.

Judge Chuang blocked the measure in July, saying forcing pregnant women, many of whom were poor, to travel to obtain the drug imposed unnecessary risks and delays, especially as the pandemic had forced many clinics to leave. reduce their hours.

He imposed a nationwide injunction, estimating that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has more than 60,000 members practicing in all 50 states, and that its members include about 90% of the nation’s obstetricians and gynecologists.

A panel of three unanimous judges from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., Refused to stay Justice Chuang’s injunction while an appeal progressed. The Trump administration, which often seeks urgent intervention from the Supreme Court when it loses in lower courts, asked judges in August to suspend the injunction.

In October, when it first encountered the case, the Supreme Court issued an unusual order remitting the case to Judge Chuang, saying “a more complete case would facilitate this court’s review” and ordering him to stop. pronounce within 40 days. In the meantime, the contested requirement remained suspended.

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Judith Jarvis Thomson, philosopher who championed abortion, dies at 91

Judith Jarvis Thomson, who created new fields of inquiry in philosophy through her writings on abortion and a moral thought experiment she dubbed the “wagon problem”, died on November 20 at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was 91 years old.

His niece, Pamela Jarvis, confirmed the death.

Professor Thomson, who has taught philosophy for most of her career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has made her imagination her most powerful intellectual tool. She coined her best-known hypothetical case in “A Defense of Abortion,” a 1971 essay widely regarded as a classic of contemporary American philosophy.

It all started with an overview of the anti-abortion stance. “Opponents of abortion usually spend most of their time establishing that the fetus is a person, and barely explaining the step from there until the abortion ban,” he said. she writes. For the sake of argument, she admitted that fetuses are people.

“Now let me ask you to imagine that,” she continued. You wake up one morning to find that the Society of Music Lovers has connected your body to that of a famous violinist, who is sick and is using your kidneys because he needs the organ from someone in your band. rare blood to survive. Do you have a moral responsibility to remain attached to the violinist for nine months, after which time he or she will have recovered?

“If you allow him to continue using your kidneys, it is kindness on your part, not something he can claim from you as his due,” Professor Thomson wrote. She viewed pregnancy the same, and viewed abortion as a refusal to help someone – as one might with the violinist – rather than murder.

“She uses the violinist’s case to say that a certain general principle is wrong, and the general principle is something like: a right to life always trumps the right to decide what happens in and on your own. body, ”said Elizabeth Harman, a philosophy professor at Princeton specializing in the ethics of abortion.

Professor Thomson has shown that the moral issues surrounding abortion suggest more general conclusions about the nature of basic rights. As Thomas Nagel, professor emeritus of philosophy and law at New York University has said, It expresses very clearly the essentially negative character of the right to life, namely that it is a right not to be unjustly killed, and not a right to receive whatever is necessary for life.

Professor Thomson advanced a theory of rights in his book “The Realm of Rights” (1992). But it was his article on abortion that, of all his work, had perhaps the greatest impact.

“Much of the discussion at that time centered on what the fetus or the embryo was,” said Frances Kamm, professor of moral philosophy at Rutgers University. “She has completely changed her mind about the issues.”

“It is the most important document on abortion,” said Professor Harman.

Conservatives who strongly disagreed with Professor Thomson nonetheless found it necessary to address his arguments, which sparked debate and scholarly articles in the popular press, including the New York Times.

Professor Thomson’s ability to make fine moral distinctions has been tested in his writings on the so-called cart problem. First articulated in an article by British philosopher Philippa Foot (who spoke of the ‘tram’ rather than the wagon), the problem became a problem after Professor Thomson made it the subject of articles she wrote. published in 1976 and 1985.

Professor Foot had compared two dilemmas:

In one, a mob threatens to kill five hostages unless a judge finds someone who can be convicted of a certain crime. The judge thinks he can save the hostages only by framing someone and having that person executed.

In the other dilemma, a fleeing cart driver walks up to five workers on the track but can spare them by switching to another track where only one worker is busy.

Professor Foot wrote that, intuitively, it did not seem morally acceptable for the judge to cause the death of one person in order to save five others, but, in the cart problem, morally acceptable for the driver to do so. She attempted to resolve this apparent inconsistency by arguing that there was a crucial difference between the dilemmas: while the driver must kill no matter what, the judge has a choice between killing and saving lives.

According to Professor Foot, the comparison shows that “negative rights”, such as the duty not to kill, are more stringent than “positive duties”, such as the duty to save lives.

In a series of increasingly complex alternative scenarios, Professor Thomson has dug this conundrum and made it a major philosophical subject.

What if the driver passed out, she asked, and a spectator had the choice of flipping a switch along the tracks, diverting the cart to the one worker instead of the five? The spectator’s choice, like that of the judge, seems to be between killing one person or letting five die; yet intuitively, Professor Thomson wrote, it seems morally permissible for the viewer to turn the switch.

The variations multiply: Professor Thomson has reconfigured the track in a loop. She made theft part of the story. She placed on the alternate track not a single worker but a convalescent picnicker.

His writings spawned a subfield of philosophy called “trolleyology” and became a prominent subject in other academic fields, such as experimental psychology, and in discussions of the design and ethics of self-driving cars. As an unexpected pop culture phenomenon, the Cart Problem provided black humor as a social media meme and a more serious brand of comedy in a 2017 episode of “The Good Place,” an NBC television series. which was inspired by philosophy.

Behind the murky details and horror of dilemmas that Professor Thomson faced lay, for her, some of the deepest questions about morality.

“She had a very strong feeling that there was a moral domain of universal truth,” Prof Nagel said. “These moral intuitions about cases are real data that can be used to uncover the structure of morality, and can be used to uncover universal moral principles that explain these intuitions.

Professor Thomson’s engagement with the cart problem saw a remarkable turnaround in 2008, when she wrote an article claiming that she was wrong about the bystander case – that the bystander was not, in fact , morally entitled to turn the switch.

Most philosophers are “attached to a philosophical agenda” or fall prey to a “professional push for consistency,” said Alex Byrne, director of MIT’s linguistics and philosophy department. “But the idea that Judy could change her mind was by no means exceptional, not remarkable at all, for she was so intellectually honest and would follow the argument wherever it took it.”

Judith Jarvis was born on October 4, 1929 in Manhattan. Her parents met at a socialist summer camp and her father, Theodore Jarvis, worked as an accountant at progressive New School. A Jew descended from rabbis on both sides of his family, Mr. Jarvis had Americanized his name of Isidor Javits. Judith’s mother, Helen (Vostry) Jarvis, a teacher, died of cancer when Judith was 6 years old.

Professor Thomson grew up primarily on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and graduated from Barnard College for Women in 1950 with a degree in philosophy. She was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to continue her studies in philosophy at the University of Cambridge in England.

She left academia for a time in publicity – writing copies for My-T-Fine Chocolate Pudding and Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast – but quickly returned to philosophy, enrolling in a graduate program at Columbia University. There, a history of philosophy class reaffirmed its belief in the value of the field.

Although the president of Columbia’s philosophy department told her that she would never be a professor because she was a woman, Barnard hired her as an assistant professor in 1960.

“Many women of my generation, in many fields, had good reason to be grateful to women’s colleges,” Professor Thomson wrote.

She married James Thomson, a visiting professor at Columbia, in 1962 and began working at MIT after hiring him in the mid-1960s. They divorced in 1982 and Mr. Thomson died in 1984. She never left. no immediate survivors.

Professor Thomson was considered, and sometimes feared, a giant in his field. In 1970, she joined eminences such as John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Robert Nozick, and Professor Nagel in a discussion group called the Society for Ethical and Legal Philosophy, in which she was found to be one of the most acute dialecticians. great researchers in philosophy.

She and several other members of the group helped start a journal, Philosophy & Public Affairs, devoted to publishing philosophical discussions on public issues. And in 1997, she joined them in submitting a brief to the United States Supreme Court defending physician-assisted suicide.

As a teacher, Professor Thomson rose to fame for drawing a horizontal line through a student essay when it was not clear enough and writing next to it: “This is where I left off. to read.

“It was part of your job as a student at MIT to help other students recover from their meetings with Judy,” said Professor Harman, who studied there herself. “That someone asks you for such clarity, who is herself a master of clear writing and a wonderful, insightful philosophy, is important.

In his first article on the cart problem, Professor Thomson alluded to it with a phrase that might sound contradictory but that struck her as a patient examiner of philosophical complexity, like the height of praise. It was, she said, “an adorable and unpleasant difficulty.”