What (and Who) Is Behind CA’s Parental Notification Push

Amie Newman

"Sarah's Law" is the third attempt to get California voters to say yes to parental notification. But there is no "Sarah" and government mandated parental notification won't improve communication between parents and teens.

Yes on 4, the group
pushing California’s
latest parental notification ballot initiative, calls it "Sarah’s Law."

Voters in California are being asked to approve or reject an
amendment to the California
constitution that mandates a doctor notify an unemancipated minor’s parents, in
the form of written notification, 48 hours prior to the young woman undergoing
an abortion.

The Yes on 4 campaign, as the anti-choice movement is wont
to do, relies on the power of personal dramatic storytelling to sell the
initiative. "Sarah" is the pseudonym for a 15-year-old teen who died in 1994 of
complications resulting from a post-abortion infection. The campaign asserts
that if "Sarah"s" family had known of her abortion, they would have been able
to step in sooner to help her access emergency care, saving her life. But the
story has been completely debunked. According to the Los Angeles Times, and as Scott
Swenson wrote
on this site
, "Sarah’s" death could not have been prevented by passage of
this law. In fact, "Sarah" was a young woman who was 1) already emancipated
from her parents and 2) not a resident of California, therefore not covered under the
proposed amendment.

And while the opposition campaign, Campaign for Teen Safety, lobbied to have
the story stricken from ballot guides in August of this year, a Sacramento judge ruled
that the name and description of the measure could remain on the official
ballot guides, citing the rule that ballot initiative language can engage in
"hyperbole" to make its case.

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The proposed amendment, while mandating notification of
parents of minors, does offer exceptions. If a young woman wishes to notify an
adult who is not her legal guardian or to bypass notification altogether, she
needs to write a letter to a judge outlining the reasons why she feels her parents
are unfit to be notified and detailing the "abuse" at the hands of her
parent(s).  Then, she must stand before a
court, explain her pregnancy and the abuse issues, and finally, obtain written
notification from the alternate adult if the judge allows.

Ask Alvin Rhomberg, a spokesperson for the Yes on 4
campaign (funded almost entirely by two conservative religious businessmen, Jim
Holman and Don Sebastiani), why this initiative is needed and he’ll use the
opportunity to focus on sexual predators and "secret abortions." Rhomberg says
the proposition is critical because Planned Parenthood "conceals sexual
predators" by not reporting instances when minors visit their clinics and cite
pregnancy as a result of a rape or sexual assault by an older male. The home
page of the campaign web site warns, "On a daily basis, older men exploit young girls
and use secret abortions to cover up their crimes."

It’s a claim backed up by no verifiable statistics and one
that makes little sense if you think for a moment about the relationship
between providers and their patients. 
For providers, the first step when hearing claims of rape or sexual assault
is to investigate it with the young woman herself. In fact, "reporting" these
claims without the consent of the patient would violate doctor/patient
confidentiality. And this sexual predator scenario simply does not ring true
with health care providers themselves.

Peg Johnston, Executive Director of Southern Tier Women’s Services, and
founder of a web site that encourages communication between young women and
their parents, Mom,
Dad, I’m Pregnant
, says, "In my 27 years of practice I cannot remember one
case that would fit the sexual predator scenario."

The Yes on 4 campaign has used the fear to their advantage.
First there’s the YouTube video featuring the story of what they say is a "14
year old girl who was raped repeatedly by a 39 year old male" taken to Planned
Parenthood twice, but the clinic never reported the "predator."  Additionally, the campaign has used the
support of two California District Attorneys – Rod Pacheco and Tony Rackauckas
– to focus attention on the sexual predator scenario. Rhomberg tells me that
Pacheco "was on the show To Catch A Predator, where they lure the sexual
predators to catch them. He was the first to cooperate and said he would have
all of the sexual predators arrested and prosecuted." Rhomberg goes on to say
that California is "experiencing increasing activity of this kind because of
the internet, cell phones and coaches…and one thing this initiative has done is
bring these issues to light."

But the No on 4 campaign dismantles the YouTube
and reveals not only how the law would not have protected the 14
year-old teen but, in fact, would have likely victimized her again:

The man was the teen’s stepfather, who married the teen’s
mother when she was 3. He acted as a father to her. The relationship was
therefore incestuous…She went to Planned Parenthood once, for a pregnancy test,
which was positive, on September 25, 2002. The teen’s stepfather took her to San Francisco General Hospital on December 17, 2002 for a
surgical abortion. When the stepfather brought the teen to Planned Parenthood, the teen did not reveal that she was having
sex with her stepfather
when she had the pregnancy test, so no one at
Planned Parenthood knew the situation.

Similarly, at San Francisco General Hospital, the teen, at
the stepfather’s direction, falsely filled out the admission forms, giving her
age as 14 years, using the stepfather’s last name as her own, and describing
him as her father…Because the teen
represented that the stepfather was her father, under Prop 4, the hospital
staff could (and undoubtedly would) have given him the parental notification

What of the "parental involvement" Proposition 4 wants to
mandate? In California,
the majority of young people (79%) already
talk to their parents
about sexual issues. According to studies,
anywhere between 61 -70% of teens nationally involve their parents in their
decision about whether or not to have an abortion. That number skyrockets to
90% in minors 15 years old and younger. When a young woman, 16 years old or
older, chooses not to, there are usually good reasons. According to the ACLU:

One study showed
that 22% of teens who did not tell a parent about their abortion decision
feared that, if they told their parents, they would be kicked out of the house.
More than 8% feared that they would be physically abused because their parents
had beaten them before. Of those who did not tell a parent, 12% did not live
with either parent and 14% had parents who abused drugs or alcohol.

It’s not only about communication with parents though. Abortion
providers would not be doing their jobs if they did not advocate for the health
and well being of their patients – and that usually means encouraging parental
involvement when it’s safe and possible.

"I think that people don’t know that abortion providers
usually encourage parental involvement–it’s just better all around if it’s
possible," says Peg Johnston. "Younger teens almost always involve family and
older teens mostly fear disapproval of their parents." In fact, Peg created the
Mom, Dad, I’m Pregnant project to "help teens tell their parents, and almost
more importantly, to help parents respond in helpful, rather than hurtful

There is nothing in the Prop 4 measure that encourages communication between
parents and their teens. The measure mandates that a physician notify an adult
member of the family – not that a parent and child communicate in any way about
the abortion, the teen’s sexual experiences, or decision making. After studying
the 34 states that mandate parental involvement (or consent), The
Bixby Center
found that "There is no evidence that a government mandate
will positively increase the frequency or quality of communication for
adolescents and their families." The Center also found that after comparing
states with parental notification requirements and without, "adolescents
involve their parents in their decision at similar rates…"

But Alvin Rhomberg can offer yet another reason why California is in need of
this measure. He claims that states with parental notification laws "have lower
rates of abortion and STDs" and that "a study by a law professor in Florida" showed that
parental notification laws "caused a statistical reduction in STDs." That’s
a stretch. The Guttmacher
Institute says
that’s not what the evidence shows — parental involvement
laws have been shown to increase
the frequency
with which adolescents travel out-of-state for abortion
care and do not decrease the pregnancy rate among teens. In some states these
laws have been responsible for increasing the birth rate and unintended
pregnancy rates among this population of young women, in addition to creating dangerous
to health care for our teens.

And if its STD rates among minors that the Yes on 4 campaign
is interested in targeting, why not start with ensuring comprehensive sex ed is
taught in California
schools? Beneficially, young people in California
are able to access confidential care from a provider without parental
notification for contraception and STI prevention methods. 

The initiative has been locked in a tight race over these
past few weeks. California
voters have defeated similar measures twice before. The initiative has been
called "deceptive" and "deceitful" and is opposed by the major associations
representing California
teachers, social workers, nurses, medical providers and advocates across the
board. And while 75% of those who are voting for the measure say
they are doing so because they believe "parents have the right to know about
their daughter’s abortion," the truth is that they may be looking to the
government for something the government is in no place to offer – honest, real
communication between parents and their teens. 

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 Law and Policy

Texas Lawmaker’s ‘Coerced Abortion’ Campaign ‘Wildly Divorced From Reality’

Teddy Wilson

Anti-choice groups and lawmakers in Texas are charging that coerced abortion has reached epidemic levels, citing bogus research published by researchers who oppose legal abortion care.

A Texas GOP lawmaker has teamed up with an anti-choice organization to raise awareness about the supposed prevalence of forced or coerced abortion, which critics say is “wildly divorced from reality.”

Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) during a press conference at the state capitol on July 13 announced an effort to raise awareness among public officials and law enforcement that forced abortion is illegal in Texas.

White said in a statement that she is proud to work alongside The Justice Foundation (TJF), an anti-choice group, in its efforts to tell law enforcement officers about their role in intervening when a pregnant person is being forced to terminate a pregnancy. 

“Because the law against forced abortions in Texas is not well known, The Justice Foundation is offering free training to police departments and child protective service offices throughout the State on the subject of forced abortion,” White said.

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White was joined at the press conference by Allan Parker, the president of The Justice Foundation, a “Christian faith-based organization” that represents clients in lawsuits related to conservative political causes.

Parker told Rewire that by partnering with White and anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), TJF hopes to reach a wider audience.

“We will partner with anyone interested in stopping forced abortions,” Parker said. “That’s why we’re expanding it to police, social workers, and in the fall we’re going to do school counselors.”

White only has a few months remaining in office, after being defeated in a closely contested Republican primary election in March. She leaves office after serving one term in the state GOP-dominated legislature, but her short time there was marked by controversy.

During the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, she directed her staff to “ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in an email to Rewire that White’s education initiative overstates the prevalence of coerced abortion. “Molly White’s so-called ‘forced abortion’ campaign is yet another example that shows she is wildly divorced from reality,” Busby said.

There is limited data on the how often people are forced or coerced to end a pregnancy, but Parker alleges that the majority of those who have abortions may be forced or coerced.

‘Extremely common but hidden’

“I would say that they are extremely common but hidden,” Parker said. “I would would say coerced or forced abortion range from 25 percent to 60 percent. But, it’s a little hard be to accurate at this point with our data.”

Parker said that if “a very conservative 10 percent” of the about 60,000 abortions that occur per year in Texas were due to coercion, that would mean there are about 6,000 women per year in the state that are forced to have an abortion. Parker believes that percentage is much higher.

“I believe the number is closer to 50 percent, in my opinion,” Parker said. 

There were 54,902 abortions in Texas in 2014, according to recently released statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The state does not collect data on the reasons people seek abortion care. 

White and Parker referenced an oft cited study on coerced abortion pushed by the anti-choice movement.

“According to one published study, sixty-four percent of American women who had abortions felt forced or unduly pressured by someone else to have an unwanted abortion,” White said in a statement.

This statistic is found in a 2004 study about abortion and traumatic stress that was co-authored by David Reardon, Vincent Rue, and Priscilla Coleman, all of whom are among the handful of doctors and scientists whose research is often promoted by anti-choice activists.

The study was cited in a report by the Elliot Institute for Social Sciences Research, an anti-choice organization founded by Reardon. 

Other research suggests far fewer pregnant people are coerced into having an abortion.

Less than 2 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 2004 reported that a partner or parent wanting them to abort was the most important reason they sought the abortion, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute.

That same report found that 24 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 14 percent surveyed in 2004 listed “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion” as one of the reasons that “contributed to their decision to have an abortion.” Eight percent in 1987 and 6 percent in 2004 listed “parents want me to have an abortion” as a contributing factor.

‘Flawed research’ and ‘misinformation’  

Busby said that White used “flawed research” to lobby for legislation aimed at preventing coerced abortions in Texas.

“Since she filed her bogus coerced abortion bill—which did not pass—last year, she has repeatedly cited flawed research and now is partnering with the Justice Foundation, an organization known to disseminate misinformation and shameful materials to crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said.  

White sponsored or co-sponsored dozens of bills during the 2015 legislative session, including several anti-choice bills. The bills she sponsored included proposals to increase requirements for abortion clinics, restrict minors’ access to abortion care, and ban health insurance coverage of abortion services.

White also sponsored HB 1648, which would have required a law enforcement officer to notify the Department of Family and Protective Services if they received information indicating that a person has coerced, forced, or attempted to coerce a pregnant minor to have or seek abortion care.

The bill was met by skepticism by both Republican lawmakers and anti-choice activists.

State affairs committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) told White during a committee hearing the bill needed to be revised, reported the Texas Tribune.

“This committee has passed out a number of landmark pieces of legislation in this area, and the one thing I think we’ve learned is they have to be extremely well-crafted,” Cook said. “My suggestion is that you get some real legal folks to help engage on this, so if you can keep this moving forward you can potentially have the success others have had.”

‘Very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem’

White testified before the state affairs committee that there is a connection between women who are victims of domestic or sexual violence and women who are coerced to have an abortion. “Pregnant women are most frequently victims of domestic violence,” White said. “Their partners often threaten violence and abuse if the woman continues her pregnancy.”

There is research that suggests a connection between coerced abortion and domestic and sexual violence.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, told the American Independent that coerced abortion cannot be removed from the discussion of reproductive coercion.

“Coerced abortion is a very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem, which is violence against women and the impact it has on her health,” Miller said. “To focus on the minutia of coerced abortion really takes away from the really broad problem of domestic violence.”

A 2010 study co-authored by Miller surveyed about 1,300 men and found that 33 percent reported having been involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion; 8 percent reported having at one point sought to prevent a female partner from seeking abortion care; and 4 percent reported having “sought to compel” a female partner to seek an abortion.

Another study co-authored by Miller in 2010 found that among the 1,300 young women surveyed at reproductive health clinics in Northern California, about one in five said they had experienced pregnancy coercion; 15 percent of the survey respondents said they had experienced birth control sabotage.

‘Tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion’

TJF’s so-called Center Against Forced Abortions claims to provide legal resources to pregnant people who are being forced or coerced into terminating a pregnancy. The website includes several documents available as “resources.”

One of the documents, a letter addressed to “father of your child in the womb,” states that that “you may not force, coerce, or unduly pressure the mother of your child in the womb to have an abortion,” and that you could face “criminal charge of fetal homicide.”

The letter states that any attempt to “force, unduly pressure, or coerce” a women to have an abortion could be subject to civil and criminal charges, including prosecution under the Federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

The document cites the 2007 case Lawrence v. State as an example of how one could be prosecuted under Texas law.

“What anti-choice activists are doing here is really egregious,” said Jessica Mason Pieklo, Rewire’s vice president of Law and the Courts. “They are using a case where a man intentionally shot his pregnant girlfriend and was charged with murder for both her death and the death of the fetus as an example of reproductive coercion. That’s not reproductive coercion. That is extreme domestic violence.”

“To use a horrific case of domestic violence that resulted in a woman’s murder as cover for yet another anti-abortion restriction is the very definition of callousness,” Mason Pieklo added.

Among the other resources that TJF provides is a document produced by Life Dynamics, a prominent anti-choice organization based in Denton, Texas.

Parker said a patient might go to a “pregnancy resource center,” fill out the document, and staff will “send that to all the abortionists in the area that they can find out about. Often that will stop an abortion. That’s about 98 percent successful, I would say.”

Reproductive rights advocates contend that the document is intended to mislead pregnant people into believing they have signed away their legal rights to abortion care.

Abortion providers around the country who are familiar with the document said it has been used for years to deceive and intimidate patients and providers by threatening them with legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing an abortion.

Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, previously told Rewire that abortion providers from across the country have reported receiving the forms.

“It’s just another tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion—tricking women into thinking they have signed this and discouraging them from going through with their initial decision and inclination,” Saporta said.

Busby said that the types of tactics used by TFJ and other anti-choice organizations are a form of coercion.

“Everyone deserves to make decisions about abortion free of coercion, including not being coerced by crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said. “Anyone’s decision to have an abortion should be free of shame and stigma, which crisis pregnancy centers and groups like the Justice Foundation perpetuate.”

“Law enforcement would be well advised to seek their own legal advice, rather than rely on this so-called ‘training,” Busby said.