Human Rights

What Do We Do About the Most All-Out Assault on Abortion Rights Since Roe?


The pro-choice movement by and large is still accepting the terrible terms set by the antis and negotiating for smaller and smaller pockets of access to this basic right.

This is a moment for sober reflection. How did we get to this point and what do we do now?

Walk for Choice

HR3, the most extreme anti-abortion federal bill yet, just passed the House of Representatives and moves on to the Senate now. If it becomes law, health insurance that includes abortion coverage would no longer be tax deductible, and the IRS could be required to audit rape victims. 512 state-level bills restricting access have been introduced in the first three months of 2011. Many of these bills directly challenge Roe. For instance, there is the so-called “heartbeat bill” in Ohio, which would ban all abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected – supported by many of the fascists hoping to run for the presidency in 2012, from Michele Bachmann to Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee. A fetus supposedly testified for this bill in the Ohio legislature, taking the surreality to another level. Then there is the Louisiana “feticide” bill which decrees 15 years hard labor to punish women and doctors for abortions.

Pro-life, your name’s a lie.

The federal bill which would have defunded Planned Parenthood (which, for the record, is not allowed to use any taxpayer funds for abortion services under current law) was defeated; but now other states are going to copycat Indiana, which just went ahead and defunded Planned Parenthood anyway. This may mean the loss of all federal Medicaid funds for Indiana, as states aren’t really supposed to single out one healthcare provider and refuse to allow Medicaid recipients to receive their services.

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While the Tea-Partying Republicans are the main force behind all these efforts, 10 Democrats co-sponsored HR3, and 16 voted for it.  The Iowa Senate Majority leader, a Democrat, is the politician orchestrating the effort to prevent Dr. LeRoy Carhart from providing abortion services in his state. There are countless other examples at the state level of Democrats joining these efforts to actively curtail our most fundamental and basic rights to control our own bodies.

How does this compare to the situation in other countries? In Canada, pro-choice activists are afraid that the new conservative government may institute something like the Hyde amendment there (preventing the government from ever funding abortion services, even for Medicaid/Medicare patients, which has been status quo in the US since 1976). This means that, as it stands now, the Canadian healthcare system freely provides women with abortions! In Tunisia, the small majority-Muslim country that set off the “Arab Spring” protests this year, abortion is free. Yet, in the US, the most powerful country on the planet, Christian fundamentalists from the backwoods to the highest levers of power, call upon all those who “love babies” to root out all new and fragile manifestations of a more just society for women, LGBT people and others, even as their beloved military continues to kill real living children, women and men by the thousands in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

We need to understand how and why all this is being tolerated so that we can change this dynamic.

This latest and most widespread attack on access to abortion builds on a wave that has been growing for more than 30 years. Anti-abortion fundamentalists have taken the offensive to shame women who insist on controlling their reproduction and their lives, to spread ignorance, and to violently attack doctors and those who defend them. They have attacked the science and the morality of our rights. Only a movement that is unapologetic and uncompromising in its insistence on the right and morality of abortion can stand up to and defeat these attacks.

While interviewing Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, Rachel Maddow pressed the question, “Why isn’t anyone standing up for the right to abortion, rather than just talking about contraceptives and pap smears?” That’s an excellent question to ask Richards. While only 3% of all of Planned Parenthood’s numerous and important services are abortions, the reason they are being targeted has everything to do with the right to abortion (contraception as well, which is inseparably connected for the anti-abortion movement). So where are the advocates in the public sphere, proudly pointing to the ways in which the right to abortion and birth control empowers women and breaks down the barriers to participation in society, advocates who angrily denounce the immorality of forced child-bearing? Where are OUR voices? There are blogs aplenty, making coherent and articulate arguments for reproductive rights, telling moving stories, and persuading people one-by-one to break through the propaganda offensive and see the true nature of the anti-abortion movement.

But the pro-choice movement by and large is still accepting the terrible terms set by the antis and negotiating for smaller and smaller pockets of access to this basic right. This is literally true now. Ninety percent of all US counties don’t have a provider. Whole states are getting ready to outlaw abortion altogether. This retreat stems not just from “big girl organization” fear of the open dialogue inherent in new media online. It’s deeply rooted and long-practiced approaches hinged on political compromise, electoral politics, seeking common ground with outright misogynists, and most of all, the needs of the Democratic Party, not of women.

Amanda Marcotte addressed this on Rewire: “We’re understandably busy trying to fight incursions against the right to abortion, but because of this, we haven’t been doing enough to expand the right and put anti-choicers on defense.”  Yes – and we also need to stop accepting the terms that there’s anything wrong with abortion! What could be more moral, more just, than ensuring people have the right to decide what happens inside their uteruses? It’s high time we seize the lofty language of morality from these oppressive creeps and re-orient all of society in a more just way.

There is good reason to fear the anti-abortion movement, which some call the “American Taliban” and others, “Christian Fascists” (what else can you can people who want the IRS to conduct “rape audits”?). But we can’t let that fear paralyze us, suffocate our voices, or allow acceptance of a truly intolerable state of affairs now.

Politics-as-usual is a dam holding back an ocean of people who care about the humanity of women.

Here we are, approaching the second anniversary of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller. If ever there was a need for mass, visible resistance in the streets to this whole hateful agenda, it is now.

Organized solely on the internet in a matter of weeks by first-time activists, the first Walk for Choice brought thousands of people in 40+ cities into the streets a few months ago. The walks continue in many cities this May 21. Find one near you asap! Organize one in your area if there isn’t one set up yet.

Walk for Choice
May 21 – Times/locations vary
All locations are listed here.

Particularly important among all the Walks is the action at the Germantown Reproductive Health Services in support of Dr. LeRoy Carhart. He’s on the frontlines, literally now, as Operation Rescue and their Maryland friends have opened up a base to harass him and his patients from right across the street from the clinic.

Support Dr. Carhart
Saturday, May 21 · 12:00pm – 2:00pm
Reproductive Health Services 
13233 Executive Park Terrace,
Germantown, Maryland
Event page on Facebook 

Commentary Economic Justice

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

Kathleen Geier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”