Repro-Briefs: The Lesser-Noticed Abortion Battles

Robin Marty

Wisconsin still can't get emergency contraception to rape victims, Florida tries to get judges to tell pregnant teenagers they should give their babies up for adoption and more stories that went under the radar.

Mandatory ultrasounds, fetal pain bills, and ridiculous waiting periods.  We watched a lot of anti-choice legislation get passed in the 2010 session, but here are a few losses and victories that may have been missed among the more headline-grabbing fights for reproductive choice.

North Dakota

It’s been a while since the Dakotas have had a ballot measure to get them fired up against abortion.  That appears to be the plan with the recently introduced “Skull Crushing and Decapitation Ban Act.”  The ban is an effort to save a “living unborn child,” according to the initiative petition, and has such wonderfully vague language as:

1. “Decapitation” means serious bodily injury in which a person uses any instrument or procedure to grasp the skull or neck of a living unborn child for the purpose of separating the skull from the neck

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2. “Skull Crushing” means seriously bodily injury in which a person uses any instrument or procedure to grasp the skull of a living unborn child for the purpose of compressing or collapsing the skull in a life-endangering manner.

that it could likely be applied to almost any procedure that isn’t a medical abortion.

The Secretary of State approved the proposed petition, which now needs approximately 13,000 valid local registered voter signatures to make it onto the ballot.

Wisconsin

Although Wisconsin has some terrific programs in place like Compassionate Care and now the Healthy Youth Initiative, getting them implemented properly can still be a problem.  Compassionate Care, a program to ensure victims of sexual assault have access to emergency contraception, was passed two years ago, but it appears some hospitals still aren’t getting with the program, according to the Wisconsin Radio Network.

Emergency contraception is still not available at all Wisconsin hospitals, according to a new survey. Two years after Compassionate Care for Rape Victims became law, a survey by the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health finds twenty-two percent of state hospitals are not complying.

“We weren’t totally surprised that many hospitals were lacking resources they needed, to truly comply with the law,” says the Alliance’s Sara Finger. “It just goes to show that there’s more work to be done, to educate and empower hospitals.”

Sara Finger with the Alliance says they’re distributing a comprehensive compliance tool kit to every emergency room and sexual assault nurse examiner in the state to help overcome a lack of resources. Other hospitals continue to object to the law, citing “provider beliefs.” Finger says that’s a matter for education. “The AMA, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Public Health Association, the AMA, all agree that emergency contraception is the standard of care to provide a rape victim in preventing a pregnancy from her attacker.”

South Carolina

Still, we do get to find some small victories here and there.  In South Carolina, an attempt to pass a personhood amendment via bureaucratic hocus pocus after it had been stalled in the legislature got completely shut down, with even Republican leaders chastising the maneuvering.

The Senate put turned back a bid Tuesday to bring anti-abortion legislation to debate on the Senate floor – an effort by an Upstate Republican to bypass stalled hearings at both the subcommittee and full committee levels.

The action, led by Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, stalled Senate business, delaying final passage of a cigarette tax increase to 50 cents a pack.

Bright, who has emerged as the Senate’s most vocal opponent of abortion rights, tried to force a vote on bypassing the committee hearings.

“This is one of those gotcha votes,” McConnell protested. “You’re for abortion or you’re against it.”

Bright said he took the step because his bill, S450, which seeks to establish fetal personhood, was introduced in February 2009 but had not yet come up for debate.

“Never debating the cause – I don’t see how that helps,” Bright said.

An irritated Senate president pro-tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, blasted the move, however, which he said not only breaks Senate procedure, but also would wind up costing the state money.

“It is unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution,” said McConnell, an attorney. “Let me tell you what he is trying to push on us: This bill would make a doctor guilty of manslaughter or murder if it goes forward.”

McConnell, who described himself as “pro-life,” scolded Bright for attempting to change U.S. law established by the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case, by passing a conflicting state law.

McConnell also blasted Bright for attempting to force senators either to support that effort or look as if they favor abortions.

Florida

Much attention is still on Florida for passing a new restrictive mandatory ultrasound bill.  But one thing that went mostly unnoticed was a push for more onerous rules around judicial bypass for parental consent, including only being able to go to your local judge, a higher level of evidence to prove the teen is “mature enough” and host of waiting roadblocks intended to, among other things, delay the teen until she is too pregnant to obtain the abortion itself or force her to have a more invasive procedure.

The best part?  This add on measure from the committee:

The House Criminal and Civil Justice Policy Committee added a measure to mandate a judge determine whether a minor is aware of the “shortage of unborn babies available for adoption.” It passed 11-4, but defied party lines with a moderate Republican and a Catholic Democrat switching sides.

Happily, the Florida senate killed the proposed new regulations.

A controversial bill to expand parental notification for abortion appears dead this session after the Senate Health Regulation Committee failed to consider the measure Monday. It is still moving in the House, so critics are careful not to celebrate yet.

But it’s the legislation’s supporters who are throwing in the towel — and blaming bill sponsor Sen. Andy Gardiner.

In an e-mail titled “UNBELIEVABLE,” the Christian Family Coalition said Gardiner “ran out on his bill” and “lost all credibility” with supporters. He left the room before it was considered and asked committee Chairman Don Gaetz to postpone it. The committee won’t meet again this session.

“This is the biggest act of COWARDICE that I have seen a public official display in all of my years in statewide politics, he didn’t even have the decency to stay in the committee hearing room and postpone his own bill,” said Anthony Verdugo, the founder of Christian Family Coalition in a statement. “Someone needs to get the message to Gardiner that politics is a contact sport and NOT for the faint at heart!”

Not for the faint of heart, sure. But it’s nice to see some politicians remembering to have a heart at all.

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.

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.”

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

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“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.