The Value of Critique and Distributive Analysis to Addressing the Needs of Sex Workers in the Context of HIV: A Response to Libby Adler’s “Gay Rights and Lefts”

Document Type

Response or Comment

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Harvard Law School




In Professor Libby Adler’s article “Gay Rights and Lefts: Rights Critique and Distributive Analysis for Real Law Reform,” she highlights the need to bring critical tools to bear on legal reform strategies. According to Adler:

Decisionism . . . consists of making difficult choices about which law reform initiatives to undertake based on broadly informed distributional hypothesis and cost-benefit calculations and then acting on the best information one can get with the best judgment one can muster, always prepared to bear the cost of one’s choices. [ii]

In my brief response I will focus on the importance of Adler’s insights in the context of HIV. In particular I will consider the grave consequences resulting from 1) refusing to engage in a cost-benefit analysis, and 2) developing a legal reform strategy that does not minimize identifiable costs. While it is not possible in the short space offered here to conduct a comprehensive distributional analysis and construct a legal reform strategy based on Adler’s idea of decisionism, I provide a glimpse of what is accomplished by analyzing costs and how a way forward for sex work and HIV might look when one engages in decisionism.

To accomplish this goal I examine the legal reform agenda of abolitionist feminists[iii] who seek to end prostitution through an advocacy agenda that places a limitation on U.S. funding for HIV/AIDS programs known as the “anti-prostitution pledge.”[iv]

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