Commentary Human Rights

Roe is About Women’s Rights

Soraya Chemaly

Roe also acknowledges a related fact: until its passage women’s bodies, legally speaking, functioned like production facilities, holding tanks, regulated environments, the property of the men who impregnated them.

“Most Americans under 30 don’t know Roe was about abortion.”  

According to the Pew Research Forum, the majority of survey respondents under 30-years old answering questions about abortion attitudes revealed the following:

  • 41 percent thought the case might have to do with the death penalty, the environment or could not name the subject matter and 16 percent thought it had to do with school desegregation,
  • Here’s the really depressing kicker: 68 percent of Republicans under 30 knew the content of the Roe decision compared with only 57 percent of Democrats,
  • A full 74 percent of those who support overturning Roe consider abortion a “crucial issue” or “one of many crucial issues.”
  • Among supporters? 31 percent.

Both Michelle Bornstein and Sarah Kliff had to type these words out, see them on a screen and push a “send” button after they wrote them for The Washington Post.  I just did it and think I’m breaking into hives. 

Just to be clear, Roe V. Wade IS NOT, to quote a Twitter friend, “Two ways to cross a river.”

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As Gail Collins once pointed out, in 1912, maybe in between the jail time she served for breaking the law and providing safe birth control to women, Margaret Sanger (also charged with obscenity for talking about her work) wrote an article called Things That Every Girl Should Know. They’re things Every BOY SHOULD KNOW,  too. And this is one of them.

Forty years ago today, Roe v Wade legalized abortion. It established every American woman’s constitutional right to an abortion at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Our bodies, we get to decide what happens to them. It’s a right.  This took time and involved several constitutional interpretations. But, Roe extended several constitutional rights that were denied to women having to do with privacy, autonomy and due process.  Which sounds abstract but isn’t.

Roe means we are far, far less likely to DIE.

Or be mutilated, suffer from infections or any number of other horrible things related to pregnancy, birth and abortion.

It means, not only do we not have to die, but no one can “let us” die if we desperately want to live.

It means doctors can save our lives if we have ectopic pregnancies or cancer. 

It means we don’t have to be tied for life to abusive, violent spouses

Or to men who deliberately sabotage our birth control.

It means we can use modern medicine and procedures to intervene and end miscarriages safely and quickly.

It means we can manage, to a small degree, heartbreak.

It means we can plan our families and take care of them.

It means that we cannot be forced to carry rape pregnancies against our wills even when our rapists want us to.

It means we don’t go to jail for something all women, by virtue of having female bodies, must seriously think about during 30 years of fertility.

It means that you, or people you know, (at least one-third of all women by the age of 45) who have had one—for whatever reason—have been able to safely and legally.

Turns out that these facts are a really tough pill for some people to swallow. Which is why some states, like Mississippi, have made it all but impossible for a woman to actually find an abortion clinic or doctor. And other states, like Texas, North Dakota, Virginia, Arizona are doing the same.  In Alabama last week, the Supreme Court ruled that fetuses are “children.”  Both 2011 and 2012 were record years in legislative attempts to erode or eliminate Roe.

Prior to Roeaccording to the Center for Reproductive Rights, “between 200,000 and 1.2 million illegally induced abortions occur[red] annually in the United States. As many as 5,000 to 10,000 women died per year following illegal abortions and many others suffered  severe physical and psychological injury.

Roe is a critically important interpretation of our constitution that extended rights to women that they were previously deprived of. Just because we’re humans born in the United States doesn’t mean we miraculously don’t have human rights issues. The right to choose, if and when and how, to reproduce is a fundamental human right. Roe protects that right for American women. Something they did not have before.

And, Roe did more than that. The right to make decisions regarding our own bodies, to manage our own reproduction has practical pluses. We get to participate in the world more equally. Go to school. Get degrees. Get and keep jobs. Run for office. Take care of our families to the best of our abilities. Leave abusive spouses. Not be prey to the vagaries of other people’s actions or wills.

The degree to which we’ve failed to educate people, as we clearly haven’t, on the legal ramifications of overturning or whittling away at Roe, is shocking.

Some people, usually the can’t tell a pregnancy test from a swizzle stick set, think Roe should be overturned as a matter of state rights. Please. What about, say, interracial marriage? Want to do that, too?  Or maybe slavery. THAT’s a good idea.

I know that the ethics of pregnancy are complicated. All people do, especially pregnant people. According to Roe, restrictions on abortion in second and their trimesters could only be established if the state could demonstrate a “compelling interest” in potential life. But, while everyone might agree that ethical compassion is a necessary component of decisions regarding how pregnancies are managed, to date, Roe‘s opponents have yet to demonstrate that they understand that women themselves have “compelling interests”—like life, liberty, autonomy. The only way you can justify a position in which a woman does not make her own abortion decisions is if you believe she is not ethically and morally capable as a matter of her gender. It is THIS idea—that women are fully autonomous, morally independent, capable human beings, that opponents of Roe have been continuously attacking since the dawn of recorded time. The last 40 years of relentless legislative, judicial, religiously-injected conservative political activism focused on women and their bodies is just this generation’s fundamentalist backlash against a modernity that seeks not only to say women are equal, but allow them to act and be equal.

My intuition, based on these surveys, is that many people are assuming that women’s fundamental rights are and always have been as inalienable and fundamental as men’s in this country. History clearly demonstrates that this is not the case. Why do you think we don’t talk about “reproductive rights” for men? The “norm” (ie. just plain old “rights”) is male. We have to qualify the rights with a “reproductive” only when we’re talking about male-deviant females. Simply because fetuses are not part of men’s bodies does not make them any less part of women’s. All of our laws are structured to reflect a world in which reproduction takes place and is managed outside of a body. Yet that is only the case for men. Roe acknowledges the difference. It refuses to pit the rights of a fetus against those of the woman for this reason. Roe also acknowledges a related fact: until its passage women’s bodies, legally speaking, functioned like production facilities, holding tanks, regulated environments, the property of the men who impregnated them. Do I really have to go on here???

The fact remains today, in regard to Roe, as it did in 2005 only perhaps even more true, that the rights I am describing remain secure, really secure, in only 20 US states. It doesn’t inspire confidence that the younger a survey respondent was, the less important they thought a woman’s right to an abortion was. This is entirely understandable result of not teaching the history of women’s rights as civil rights, applauding the accomplishments of those that fought for women’s freedoms and equality, or acknowledging in mainstream media that feminist activism as ongoing.

It’s especially important now because the problem we have is not that Roe will be overturned. It is that opponents have been degrading and dismantling Roe by proxy since 1973. And the more public opinion seems to turn against them, the more aggressive and systematic they seem to be. They are using laws never intended to apply to women and abortion to intimidate, investigate, arrest, prosecute and imprison us based on the same views that inform their anti-Roe agenda. So, while Roe should have meant that Angela Carder didn’t die, she did. Or that Laura Pemberton wasn’t taken from her home, tied to a bed and forced to have Cesarean surgery, she was. Or that Bei Bei Shuai wouldn’t face murder charges because she was filled with despair while pregnant and tried to commit suicide, but she is. Roe was originally based on “four constitutional pillars” of which only two remain today. The result is that states can, and are, proposing and passing fetal “rights” statutes in defiance of women’s constitutional rights, medical facts, scientific research and with no regard for the complicated, often dangerous, urgent contexts that are unique to every pregnancy. Poorer, darker women pay the highest price.

There should be posters on every school campus that read: Roe is what allows American girls and women of childbearing age to plan their families and live without fear of unwanted pregnancies, debilitating infections or death caused by illegal abortions or complications caused by pregnancy and childbirth.

Given the fact that one in three U.S. women will have an abortion by the time they are 45 either you or someone you know has had or will have an abortion. It’s no one’s business why. Roe v. Wade isn’t about women’s choices, it’s about their rights. All girls and women have the right to make decisions for themselves. That’s what Roe is. 

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.”