The Devil is in the Details

Cristina Page

If only sanctimony could prevent abortion. But in fact, contraception is far more effective.

In the last few weeks, Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, has reserved much of her signature wrath just for me. I'd be honored by her op-eds and blogs devoted to me if it all weren't so disturbing (and to be honest, threatening). She has called me "wicked," an "architect of death," simply for doing nothing other than supporting a different (and mind you, proven effective) approach to preventing abortion. Her actions are, to put it mildly, grossly disproportionate and irresponsible. And provide a sad insight into her brand of pro-life argument, to wit: when you can't win with facts attack your opponent with Biblical rage.

Having followed Judie's work and writing for several years now, I know sanctimony is her pornography. Nothing turns her on more than her own piety. It would be great for everyone if Judie's sanctimony prevented abortion but sadly, her approach leads to more of them. With abortion, the devil is in the details and we have enough details available to us now to know that Judie's approach is far more demonic than mine.

Given this, I could attack Judie as she has me and label her an "agent of deception," an "ideologue" and conclude by saying of her that "we must call evil by its proper name." But, my catholic upbringing has taught me better. (I also recognize such hate speech–let's call it what it is–is intended to rile the dangerous to act. As a mother of a young child, Judie's remarks are received with an added degree of alarm.)

Instead of slinging slurs and stooping to hate speech, I have instead tried to open up the national discussion about abortion. Yes, I have referred to pro-lifers as the "God Squad" but it's a title I'm pretty sure they embrace. And, yes, I did write a provocatively titled book, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, though I consider it a book for reasonable pro-life as well as pro-choice thinkers. (I wanted it subtitled, "a book for pro-life people." My editors opted for another subtitle which was their right.) The fact is, pro-lifers who have actually read the book (most of my critics have not) have thanked me. And there's a reason. My book shows the difference, based on results, between pro-life and pro-lie. Many results-oriented pro-lifers appreciate the distinction. Genuine pro-life people want fewer abortions. Real pro-life people want to see abortion unnecessary. Honest pro-life people don't try to conflate abortion and contraception in a bizarre effort to change American's sex lives, as Judie Brown does, even if it results in higher abortion rates.

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It is my firm belief that Judie's main mission is not to stop abortion. If it were, she would not spearhead campaigns against contraception (the only proven way to prevent abortion) but would instead send her staff off to study the policies of the countries that have achieved the lowest abortion rates in the world. (Hint: they are the ones with the greatest contraceptive access.) If making abortion unnecessary were what Judie was truly after, she'd first admit that the countries that have the highest abortion rates in the world (often twice our national average) are those that have adopted her full agenda. These are places where she would proudly fly an ALL banner. They are places where contraception is hard to come by; where only abstinence is taught to sexually active people; where abortion is outlawed.

It goes without saying that Judie didn't send a letter of thanks to Bill Clinton, our first pro-choice president, when he presided over the most dramatic decline in abortion rates ever recorded. But she's also not moved that Bush, the "pro-lifer" in the oval office who has fulfilled much of the anti-contraception movement's agenda, has seen to it that abortion rates are now on the rise. How about that devilish detail?

In her op-ed, "Anti-Life Nonsense," Judie writes,

[Page] denies that a human being's life begins when the human sperm and human egg unite. She cites an official bit of gobbledygook that says pregnancy does not begin until around eight days later, at implantation. In doing so she is carrying on the long, disastrous folly the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology foisted upon women more than 40 years ago. In 1965 this august body of physicians, on the brink of making a whole lot of money by selling birth control pills, chose to redefine the start of pregnancy so they could deny to their patients that the pill can kill a preborn child.

Setting aside Judie's simplistic and paranoid views of the medical establishment, it's important to understand that on the issue of whether contraception can ever act as an abortifacient the most respected pro-life doctors agree with me. Twenty-two of them, including Dr. David Hager, Dr. Susan Crockett, and Dr. Joe McIlhaney, wrote an open statement imploring the pro-life movement to stop campaigns, like Judie's, against birth control mainly because there is absolutely no evidence that any contraceptive device does what Judie et. al. say it does. Turns out, not surprisingly, its Judie's citations that the pro-life medical experts consider gobbledygook. The pro-life Ob/Gyns write:

In this discussion we accept the time-honored definition that conception occurs when a sperm penetrates an egg. Disruption of the fertilized egg after this point represents abortion. We consider fertilization … to be the beginning of human life… Currently the claim that hormonal contraceptives [birth control pills, implants (norplant), injectables (depo-provera)] include an abortifacient mechanism of action is being widely disseminated in the pro-life community. This theory is emerging with the assumed status of "scientific fact," and is causing significant confusion among both lay and medical pro-life people. The "hormonal contraception is abortifacient" theory is not established scientific fact. It is speculation, and the discussion presented here suggests it is error…We know of no existing scientific studies that validate the "hostile endometrium is abortifacient" theory… If a family, weighing all the factors affecting their own circumstances, decides to use this modality, we are confident that they are not using an abortifacient.

Possibly, to Judie, these pro-life doctors too are "ideologues," "agents of deception," "architects of the culture of death," and "wicked." After all, they have made precisely the same argument I do. When I have proven her campaigns against contraception distort science, Judie resorts to desperate tactics. Suddenly, I'm anti-God. She writes, "As if [Page's] disdain for all things holy was not bad enough, she has made a profession out of betraying her fellow women by repeating the lie that chemical birth control agents such as the morning-after pill can not cause an abortion." And "[Page] continues to insist that anything of God must be very wrong and anything resulting from sinful sexual activity must be very good indeed."

I recognize that in Judie's world, one cannot have both a close relationship with God and a close relationship with the facts. Judie believes that to love God you can't love sex for pleasure either. But the majority of Catholics, like the majority of pro-lifers–when asked to chose sides on the issue of contraception and sex-side with little old "anti-God," "evil" me. Eighty percent of self-described pro-lifers support access to contraception and, according to the National Survey of Family Growth, 97% of Catholic women have used artificial birth control. So, does Judie extend the anti-God label to the majority of Catholics and pro-lifers too?

There is a devil is these details and it should make any thoughtful pro-lifer wonder why Judie doesn't want you to know about them but instead retreats behind the iron gate of her holiness. Judie's arguments offer to readers no information only judgments. That's always a suspicious tactic. It's not only what's missing from Judie's arguments that's cause for concern, it's what she chooses to include. A true leader does not make veiled threats, resort to hate speech, label anyone who questions her approach "wicked," or call those who look for reasoned and peaceful solutions in this most acrimonious conflict "evil." That's not leadership. Pro-lifers not only deserve the facts, they deserve better.

Commentary Economic Justice

The Gender Wage Gap Is Not Women’s Fault, and Here’s the Report That Proves It

Kathleen Geier

The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work.

A new report confirms what millions of women already know: that women’s choices are not to blame for the gender wage gap. Instead, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the progressive think tank that issued the report, say that women’s unequal pay is driven by “discrimination, social norms, and other factors beyond women’s control.”

This finding—that the gender pay gap is caused by structural factors rather than women’s occupational choices—is surprisingly controversial. Indeed, in my years as a journalist covering women’s economic issues, the subject that has been most frustrating for me to write about has been the gender gap. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked as a consultant for EPI, though not on this particular report.) No other economic topic I’ve covered has been more widely misunderstood, or has been so outrageously distorted by misrepresentations, half-truths, and lies.

That’s because, for decades, conservatives have energetically promoted the myth that the gender pay gap does not exist. They’ve done such a bang-up job of it that denying the reality of the gap, like denying the reality of global warming, has become an article of faith on the right. Conservative think tanks like the Independent Women’s Forum and the American Enterprise Institute and right-wing writers at outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller have denounced the gender pay gap as “a lie,” “not the real story,” “a fairy tale,” “a statistical delusion,” and “the myth that won’t die.” Sadly, it is not only right-wing propagandists who are gender wage gap denialists. Far more moderate types like Slate’s Hanna Rosin and the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson have also claimed that the gender wage gap statistic is misleading and exaggerates disparities in earnings.

According to the most recent figures available from the Census Bureau, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only 79 cents, a statistic that has barely budged in a decade. And that’s just the gap for women overall; for most women of color, it’s considerably larger. Black women earn only 61 percent of what non-Hispanic white men make, and Latinas earn only 55 percent as much. In a recent survey, U.S. women identified the pay gap as their biggest workplace concern. Yet gender wage gap denialists of a variety of political stripes contend that gender gap statistic—which measures the difference in median annual earnings between men and women who work full-time, year-round—is inaccurate because it does not compare the pay of men and women doing the same work. They argue that when researchers control for traits like experience, type of work, education, and the like, the gender gap evaporates like breath on a window. In short, the denialists frame the gender pay gap as the product not of sexist discrimination, but of women’s freely made choices.

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The EPI study’s co-author, economist Elise Gould, said in an interview with Rewire that she and her colleagues realized the need for the new report when an earlier paper generated controversy on social media. That study had uncovered an “unadjusted”—meaning that it did not control for differences in workplace and personal characteristics—$4 an hour gender wage gap among recent college graduates. Gould said she found this pay disparity “astounding”: “You’re looking at two groups of people, men and women, with virtually the same amount of experience, and yet their wages are so different.” But critics on Twitter, she said, claimed that the wage gap simply reflected the fact that women were choosing lower-paid jobs. “So we wanted to take out this one idea of occupational choice and look at that,” Gould said.

Gould and her co-author Jessica Schieder highlight two important findings in their EPI report. One is that, even within occupations, and even after controlling for observable factors such as education and work experience, the gender wage gap remains stubbornly persistent. As Gould told me, “If you take a man and a woman sitting side by side in a cubicle, doing the same exact job with the same amount of experience and the same amount of education, on average, the man is still going to be paid more than the woman.”

The EPI report cites the work of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who looked at the relative weight in the overall wage gap of gender-based pay differences within occupations versus those between occupations. She found that while gender pay disparities between different occupations explain 32 percent of the gap, pay differences within the same occupation account for far more—68 percent, or more than twice as much. In other words, even if we saw equal numbers of men and women in every profession, two-thirds of the gender wage gap would still remain.

And yes, female-dominated professions pay less, but the reasons why are difficult to untangle. It’s a chicken-and-egg phenomenon, the EPI report explains, raising the question: Are women disproportionately nudged into low-status, low-wage occupations, or do these occupations pay low wages simply because it is women who are doing the work?

Historically, “women’s work” has always paid poorly. As scholars such as Paula England have shown, occupations that involve care work, for example, are associated with a wage penalty, even after controlling for other factors. But it’s not only care work that is systematically devalued. So, too, is work in other fields where women workers are a majority—even professions that were not initially dominated by women. The EPI study notes that when more women became park rangers, for example, overall pay in that occupation declined. Conversely, as computer programming became increasingly male-dominated, wages in that sector began to soar.

The second major point that Gould and Schieder emphasize is that a woman’s occupational choice does not occur in a vacuum. It is powerfully shaped by forces like discrimination and social norms. “By the time a woman earns her first dollar, her occupational choice is the culmination of years of education, guidance by mentors, parental expectations, hiring practices, and widespread norms and expectations about work/family balance,” Gould told Rewire. One study cited by Gould and Schieder found that in states where traditional attitudes about gender are more prevalent, girls tend to score higher in reading and lower in math, relative to boys. It’s one of many findings demonstrating that cultural attitudes wield a potent influence on women’s achievement. (Unfortunately, the EPI study does not address racism, xenophobia, or other types of bias that, like sexism, shape individuals’ work choices.)

Parental expectations also play a key role in shaping women’s occupational choices. Research reflected in the EPI study shows that parents are more likely to expect their sons to enter male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and math (often called STEM) fields, as opposed to their daughters. This expectation holds even when their daughters score just as well in math.

Another factor is the culture in male-dominated industries, which can be a huge turn-off to women, especially women of color. In one study of women working in science and technology, Latinas and Black women reported that they were often mistaken for janitors—something that none of the white women in the study had experienced. Another found that 52 percent of highly qualified women working in science and technology ended up leaving those fields, driven out by “hostile work environments and extreme job pressures.”

Among those pressures are excessively long hours, which make it difficult to balance careers with unpaid care work, for which women are disproportionately responsible. Goldin’s research, Gould said, shows that “in jobs that have more temporal flexibility instead of inflexibility and long hours, you do see a smaller gender wage gap.” Women pharmacists, for example, enjoy relatively high pay and a narrow wage gap, which Goldin has linked to flexible work schedules and a professional culture that enables work/life balance. By contrast, the gender pay gap is widest in highest-paying fields such as finance, which disproportionately reward those able to work brutally long hours and be on call 24/7.

Fortunately, remedies for the gender wage gap are at hand. Gould said that strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, greater wage transparency (which can be achieved through unions and collective bargaining), and more flexible workplace policies would all help to alleviate gender-based pay inequities. Additional solutions include raising the minimum wage, which would significantly boost the pay of the millions of women disproportionately concentrated in the low-wage sector, and enacting paid family leave, a policy that would be a boon for women struggling to combine work and family. All of these issues are looming increasingly large in our national politics.

But in order to advance these policies, it’s vital to debunk the right’s shameless, decades-long disinformation campaign about the gender gap. The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work. The right alleges that the official gender pay gap figure exaggerates the role of discrimination. But even statistics that adjust for occupation and other factors can, in the words of the EPI study, “radically understate the potential for gender discrimination to suppress women’s earnings.”

Contrary to conservatives’ claims, women did not choose to be paid consistently less than men for work that is every bit as valuable to society. But with the right set of policies, we can reverse the tide and bring about some measure of economic justice to the hard-working women of the United States.

News Politics

Congresswoman Pushes Intersectionality at Democratic National Convention

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) charges that reproductive health-care restrictions have a disproportionate impact on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

The members of Congress who flocked to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week included a vocal advocate for the intersection of racial and reproductive justice: Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Watson Coleman’s longstanding work in these areas “represented the intersection of who I am,” she said during a discussion in Philadelphia sponsored by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Cosmopolitan. Reproductive health-care restrictions, she stressed, have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

“These decisions impact these communities even more so [than others],” she told Rewire in an interview. “We don’t have the alternatives that middle-class, suburban, white women have. And we’d rather they have them.”

Watson Coleman has brought that context to her work in Congress. In less than two years on Capitol Hill, she co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls and serves on the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a GOP-led, $1.2 million investigation that she and her fellow Democrats have called an anti-choice “witch hunt.”

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Coleman said she’s largely found support and encouragement among her fellow lawmakers during her first term as a woman of color and outspoken advocate for reproductive rights.

“What I’ve gotten from my Republican colleagues who are so adamantly against a woman’s right to choose—I don’t think it has anything to do with my being a woman or an African American, it has to do with the issue,” she said.

House Republicans have increasingly pushed anti-choice policies in advance of the ongoing August recess and November’s presidential election. The House this month passed the Conscience Protection Act, which would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in such care.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) lauded passage of the bill and the House’s thus-far unsuccessful effort to prove that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations—allegations based on widely discredited videos published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group that has worked closely with GOP legislators to attack funding for Planned Parenthood.

On the other side of the aisle, Watson Coleman joined 118 other House Democrats to co-sponsor the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act (HR 2972). Known as the EACH Woman Act, the legislation would overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure that every woman has access to insurance coverage of abortion care.

The Hyde Amendment’s restriction of federal funding for abortion care represents a particularly significant barrier for people with low incomes and people of color.

The Democratic Party platform, for the first time, calls for repealing the Hyde Amendment, though the process for undoing a yearly federal appropriations rider remains unclear.

For Watson Coleman, the path forward on getting rid of the Hyde Amendment is clear on at least one point: The next president can’t go it alone.

“The president will have to have a willing Congress,” she said. She called on the electorate to “recognize that this is not a personality contest” and “remove some of those people who have just been obstructionists without having the proper evidence.”

In the meantime, what does a “willing Congress” look like for legislation with anti-choice roadblocks? A majority voting bloc helps, Watson Coleman said. But that’s not everything.

“There are lots of bills that Republicans will vote for if their leadership would simply bring them up,” she said.