Abortion, Contraception, and Sex Ed in the States in 2008

Rachel Gold and Elizabeth Nash

In 2008, a few state legislatures took steps to promote reproductive health, by requiring hospitals to provide information on EC to rape survivors and laying the groundwork for expanding Medicaid family planning coverage.

Social issues, including those
related to reproductive health and rights, were not the top priority
in 2008 for state legislators, who mostly spent the year grappling with
budget crises and infrastructure issues even as they sought to shorten
their sessions so they could hit the campaign trail in advance of the
November elections. Nevertheless, 1,001 measures relating to reproductive
health and rights were introduced in 44 states and the District of Columbia
over the course of the year, and 33 new laws were enacted in 20 states.
(Six state legislatures did not meet in 2008.) 

While none of the 17 new abortion-related
laws expand access to services, a few states took significant steps
to promote reproductive health by requiring hospitals to provide information
on emergency contraception to women who have been sexually assaulted,
laying the groundwork for expanding Medicaid family planning coverage
and mandating insurance coverage of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. 

Meanwhile, voters in three
states cast ballots on abortion-related ballot initiatives in November,
all of which failed. The initiatives defeated in Colorado and South
Dakota would have banned abortion, the former by establishing personhood
at conception and the latter by banning abortion except in cases of
life endangerment, rape, incest or when the woman’s physical health
is extremely endangered. The measure defeated in California would have
required notification of a parent before a minor obtains an abortion;
this was the third time in four years that a parental notification proposal
was rejected by voters. 


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Over the course of the year,
nine states enacted new provisions, amended current law or continued
funding requirements related to abortion. Among the new laws is an omnibus
measure in Oklahoma -enacted over Gov. Brad Henry’s (D) veto – that
includes seven separate provisions.

  • Four states imposed
    ultrasound requirements on abortion providers, bringing the total number
    of states with these provisions to 16. Oklahoma’s new omnibus law
    requires all abortion providers to have ultrasound equipment on-site
    and to perform an ultrasound on every woman obtaining an abortion. 
    The provider is also required to verbally describe the image to the
    woman and position the monitor so she is able to see it, although the
    law explicitly permits the woman to avert her eyes if she desires. (This
    law is not in effect pending the outcome of a legal challenge.) 
    In Ohio and South Carolina, new laws require that the woman be offered
    the option to view an ultrasound image if the provider performs the
    test in preparation for the abortion. In South Dakota, the woman must
    be offered the option of undergoing an ultrasound. (See Requirements for

  • Two states enacted
    laws that purport to address the issues of coerced abortion. The omnibus Oklahoma
    measure requires abortion providers to post notices informing women
    that coerced abortion is illegal and that they can contact the authorities
    for assistance if needed. A new Idaho law makes it a crime to coerce
    a woman into having an abortion by either physically harming her or
    threatening to do so. These new laws are the result of efforts by abortion
    opponents to characterize abortion providers as often being complicit
    in forcing women to have abortions, despite the absence of data to substantiate
    their claims.

  • Six states addressed
    funding for abortion or alternatives to abortion. As part of its annual
    appropriations process, Maryland continued a long-standing limitation
    on the use of state Medicaid funds for abortions necessary in cases
    of life endangerment, rape, incest, fetal abnormality or when the woman’s
    physical or mental health is at risk. Iowa also used its budget process
    to continue its policy of paying for medically necessary abortions under
    Medicaid. (See State
    Funding of Abortion Under Medicaid

  • Oklahoma’s omnibus
    abortion law contains two provisions related to medication abortion.
    The first requires providers to follow the FDA-approved protocol, which
    would preclude offering women newer, widely used lower-dose regimens
    of the medication that have been found to be as effective with fewer
    side effects. The new law also limits the provision of medication abortion
    to physicians, despite the fact that advanced practice clinicians (such
    as physician assistants, certified nurse midwives and advanced nurse
    practitioners) are permitted to provide medication abortions (as opposed
    to surgical abortions) in many states; research has shown that they
    do so with the same level of safety and efficacy as physicians.

  • The Oklahoma law
    also has two provisions not found in any other measure enacted last
    year. One prohibits a woman from suing a medical provider who does not
    give full and accurate information about her pregnancy if the misinformation
    results in her carrying the pregnancy to term, provided that the wrongful
    act or omission does not place the woman’s life or health at risk.
    The other greatly expands the ability of health care professionals and
    facilities in the state to refuse to provide or refer for abortion.
    (See Refusing
    to Provide Health Services.


Contraception and Prevention 

  • Three laws enacted
    in 2008 were designed to improve access to contraceptives and other
    preventive services, while two new laws continued existing restrictions
    on state family planning funds.

  • Wisconsin became
    the 16th state to require hospitals to provide medically accurate and
    unbiased information about emergency contraception to women who have
    been sexually assaulted. Hospitals must also provide the medication
    upon request. (See Emergency

  • A new law in Colorado
    clears the way for the state to seek federal permission to expand Medicaid
    eligibility for family planning services. A fiscal note accompanying
    the bill indicates that the state Medicaid agency expects to seek to
    raise the ceiling to 200% of the federal poverty level. Currently, 27
    states have similar programs in place. (See Medicaid
    Family Planning Eligibility Expansions

  • Iowa enacted a provision
    requiring health plans issued in the state to cover the HPV vaccine
    if they include coverage for any immunization or vaccination. Four states
    (Colorado, Illinois, Nevada and New Mexico) adopted similar provisions
    in 2007.

  • Also in 2008, Colorado
    and Michigan re-enacted long-standing restrictions on state family planning
    funds. The Colorado law prohibits state family planning funds from going
    to organizations that provide abortion services with their own funds.
    Michigan barred the use of state family planning funds for abortion
    services, including counseling and referral. Two other states have similar
    restrictions. (See State
    Family Planning Funding Restrictions

Sex Education 

Unlike in 2007, when four states
took steps related to sex education, including measures in two states
to expand access to comprehensive sex education, the subject did not
elicit significant attention in 2008. In fact, the only enacted measure
related to sex education was one in New Hampshire, which permits a student
to be excused from health or sex education for religious reasons. With
this new law, 36 states and the District of Columbia permit students
to be excused from sex education classes. (See Sex and STI/HIV

For summaries of major state
legislative actions in 2008, click

For a table showing legislation
enacted in 2008, click

For the status of state law
and policy on key reproductive health and rights issues, click here.

News Politics

NARAL President Tells Her Abortion Story at the Democratic National Convention

Ally Boguhn

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the story of her abortion on the stage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

“Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path,” Hogue told the crowd on the third night of the party’s convention. “I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time.”

“I made the decision that was best for me — to have an abortion — and to get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community,” she continued. “Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.”

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Hogue noted that her experience is similar to those of women nationwide.

“About one in three American women have abortions by the age of 45, and the majority are mothers just trying to take care of the families they already have,” she said. “You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives — each making decisions that are the best for us.”

As reported by Yahoo News, “Asked if she was the first to have spoken at a Democratic National Convention about having had an abortion for reasons other than a medical crisis, Hogue replied, ‘As far as I know.'”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards on Tuesday night was the first speaker at the DNC in Philadelphia to say the word “abortion” on stage, according to Vox’s Emily Crockett. 

Richards’ use of the word abortion was deliberate, and saying the word helps address the stigma that surrounds it, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Vice President of Communication Mary Alice Carter said in an interview with ThinkProgress. 

“When we talk about reproductive health, we talk about the full range of reproductive health, and that includes access to abortion. So we’re very deliberate in saying we stand up for a woman’s right to access an abortion,” Carter said.

“There is so much stigma around abortion and so many people that sit in shame and don’t talk about their abortion, and so it’s very important to have the head of Planned Parenthood say ‘abortion,’ it’s very important for any woman who’s had an abortion to say ‘abortion,’ and it’s important for us to start sharing those stories and start bringing it out of the shadows and recognizing that it’s a normal experience,” she added.

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates. In April, Clinton called out moderators for failing to ask “about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care” over the course of eight debates—though she did not use the term abortion in her condemnation.

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.