Boston -- Hollywood has always been interested in sex for sale. It's a cottage industry of sorts. They've made a bundle on prostitutes from "Pretty Woman" at the low end of the streetwalker scale to "Indecent Proposal" at the high end.
A few weeks ago, Hugh Grant became the most famous john in America simply by joining the town's three obsessions -- money, cars and sex -- together for one moment of what the law called "lewd conduct." Then last week, Heidi Fleiss was back in court as madam to the stars while a videotaped Charlie Sheen owned up to some $53,500 worth of sex bills.
The sympathy in Mr. Grant's case went entirely to Elizabeth Hurley, the wronged woman with whom he lives (uh, lived?) in what used to be called sin. The apologies in Mr. Sheen's case went to his fiance. The buzz has been about why on earth these guys "had to" pay for sex. No one asked why on earth these working women had to be paid for sex.
Still, if you think that the most intriguing legal action about prostitution is in Tinseltown, you ain't seen nothin' yet. With all due respect to Hugh and Heidi, the star of the show may be a Florida woman with the moniker, Jane Roe II.
The former prostitute is suing to have state laws banning the sale of sex declared unconstitutional. She's suing on the grounds that the laws violate her right to privacy.
Fashioning herself after the first Jane Roe (as in Roe v. Wade), Jane II says that if a woman has the right to an abortion, "how can a woman not have the right to use her own reproductive organs to give away sex or charge for it as she sees fit . . . " And she's won the right to ask this in court.
The federal judge who said again last week that he will hear this line of argument is no flaming liberal. He's a flaming conservative named Jose A. Gonzalez Jr., best known for ruling that 2 Live Crew's album "Nasty As They Wanna Be" was obscene.
In fairness, Jane's line of argument is not entirely off the wall. In 1977, a study on sex bias in the law said that "prostitution as a consensual act between adults is probably within the zone of privacy protected by recent constitutional decisions." One of the bylines was Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Historically, women's rights advocates have been of at least two minds about prostitution. One mind says that a woman should be free to conduct her business -- the world's oldest profession -- without state interference or police harassment. The other mind says that a woman should be protected from falling victim to male lust (19th century) or exploitation (20th century).
The moral, legal, medical arguments range across the spectrum. Reformers want to decriminalize the sale of sex, or crack down on johns as well as janes, or regulate the health safety of the, uh, product. Some believe women are better off if they can choose their own line of work while others say that prostitution is a phony and dangerous un-choice.
In her own petition, Jane Roe II describes her old job as "a lucrative (and often glamorous) business" to which she would like to return. She asks, "Does the state just want women to make love for free?"
But whatever the state thinks about free love, the original Roe decision doesn't grant a blanket permission to "do whatever you want with your own body." It supports the woman's right to be left alone by the government in making a fundamental decision -- to bear a child or have an abortion -- based on her own conscience or religious beliefs.
There are all sorts of limits on the commercial use of your own body. In this country, for example, it's illegal to sell your own organs or even sell yourself into slavery. It's even illegal to work below the minimum wage.
As Larry Tribe, Harvard's constitutional scholar says, the government limits these practices because they "threaten to exploit or subordinate the most vulnerable groups." Among those groups, you could fairly list those women who in desperation would turn to prostitution. Would we, by the way, want teen-agers, who have the right to abortion, to have the right to be hookers?
In real life, the rich don't try to sell their kidneys. And despite the glamorous portraits of Jane Roe II and Heidi Fleiss, the average prostitute is not "choosing" between brain surgery, a high management job, or sex sales.
There are all sorts of reasons -- good, bad and indifferent -- for making prostitution legal. But we're better off arguing this in public and in the legislature, not the courts.
In short, Jane, don't put your Constitution out on the street.
Ellen Goodman is a Boston Globe columnist.