Like Literacy Tests Before Them, Parental Notification and Consent Laws Are Meant to Punish and Humiliate

Amanda Marcotte

Parental notification and consent laws are sold as a public good and as protection for teenagers, but are really only about humiliating and punishing them.

Birmingham, Alabama Planned Parenthood
was put on state probation after an
undercover "sting" operation by anti-choicers discovered that employees seem to
be bending the rules on parental notification for minors. This situation is
incredibly frustrating for people with a non-misogynist values system, because
while we all think it’s stupid for abortion providers to break the law, no
matter how unjust, it’s also hard not to sympathize with workers who struggle
with normal human compassion for young women who are in danger of being forced
to give birth against their will for the crime of being a minor.

It’s also incredibly hard not to get frustrated at the
disingenuous posturing of forced birthers on both parental notification laws
and laws requiring clinics to report sexual abuse of minors. To hear
anti-choicers brag on themselves for supporting these laws and these stings,
you’d think they care about child sexual abuse, statutory rape, and the
well-being of girls. But of course, that can’t really be true for a couple of
reasons. One, they’re not running sting operations in maternity wards, aimed at
turning in hospital staff that doesn’t report statutory rape when minors give
birth. Two, it’s just beyond the pale to suggest that it’s helpful or caring
towards actual victims of sexual assault to force them to give birth against
their will. In fact, I would call that attitude "punishing," or perhaps

And make no mistake. Parental notification and consent laws
may be sold to the public as a way to keep parents in the loop in their
children’s lives and medical decisions, but the real purpose of the laws are to
force teenage girls into unwanted motherhood, full stop. Again, you can see
that this is true because teenage girls are free to bear children without
notifying their parents or getting permission. But it’s more than that. When
you look at how the laws work in real life, it gets even more disturbing how
true it is that this is all about forcing teenage girls to give birth against
their will for the "crime" of having sex outside the bounds prescribed by

It’s interesting that this happened in Alabama, which was
one of the states famous in the past for creating elaborate schemes to deny
black citizens their rights, often without coming out and officially saying so.
And even though federal legislation has wiped away many of those schemes, it’s
important to revisit how these laws worked, because the "legislate for an
official goal while promoting a hard right agenda" method has changed aims, but
has not gone away. For instance, Rachel Maddow recently put
together a report on the pre-1965 laws to prevent black citizens from voting
laws that often were promoted under the misleading term "literacy tests." These
tests were ostensibly to make sure that voters had a basic understanding of
civics in order to vote but they actually existed to make sure that black
citizens couldn’t vote while white citizens passed with flying colors. Black
applicants for voter registration were often asked impossible questions (with
reports of even being asked to guess how many marbles in a jar), and a board of
state officials dedicated to segregation determined subjectively if you passed.
That determination was made not by actual answers to the questions so much as
by the color of your skin.

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I bring this up because while literacy tests are illegal
nowadays, right wing legislators still take delight in writing disingenuous
legislation aimed at destroying people’s basic rights while pretending to do
something else. And parental notification is a stellar example of how a law
masquerading as something intended for the well-being of girls and their
families is actually about maximizing pain and misery for sexually active young
women. This isn’t about the Oppression Olympics or trying to equate one kind of
injustice with another, but that the right wing returns to this bag of
political tricks over and over.

On paper, getting parental permission for an abortion
doesn’t seem like it would be that hard, right? No harder than enrolling a kid
in school, or signing a permission slip for a field trip, right? You’d think,
but in reality, parental notification laws are very good at forcing unwilling
teenagers into motherhood. Because the point of the law is to force childbirth,
the burden of proof that a parent has been notified gets ridiculously,
impossibly high. This
blog post records some of the issues at stake.
Did you know that the law
often requires both parents to sign off, even if one has skipped town and
hasn’t been heard from in 15 years? And even if a girl walks in the door with
both parents, the question is, how do you prove
these are her parents?  There’s not an ID
card that says, "My name is X and my legal guardians are Y and Z." From the

So, you can (and do) have the
situation where a girl’s mother and father come to the clinic with her, but do
not have IDs, social security cards, or birth certificates, so the clinic sends
the girl to the courthouse, since she is legally unable to notify her parents,
who are standing next to her.

Judicial bypass has become a joke in some places, as well. Last
year, I
interviewed Helena Silverstein about her research in this area,
and she
discovered that many judges simply refuse to process judicial bypass laws. Sometimes
it’s because they’re too busy, but often it’s because they support forced
childbirth for teenagers.

It’s hard to say how many teenage girls are forced to give
birth against their will every year because of these laws; after all, women who
are determined not to have a baby will often jump through as many hoops as
necessary to do so. But in the end, the hoop-jumping itself becomes the
punishment for these young women who had sex without permission from misogynist
blowhards. And it’s this sadism, this will to force teenage girls to go through
heart-breaking bureaucratic humiliation in order to get a basic medical
procedure that makes me the most skeptical of all of anti-choicers who posture
and pretend to care a fig for the well-being of teenage girls.

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.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.