Commentary Abortion

Beatriz Case Reveals Catholic Hierarchy’s War on Women

Adele M. Stan

The church fathers' refusal to ordain women priests or to sanction the use of contraception suggests that contempt for women drives the draconian abortion doctrine they'd like to put into law across the globe.

See all our coverage of Beatriz here.

For the women of the world’s more privileged nations, it is tempting to view the plight of Beatriz, the gravely ill Salvadoran woman denied a therapeutic abortion of a fetus missing its brain, as something that could not happen to us. But if the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) had its way, women who face similar medical challenges in the United States would be forced into the same life-threatening circumstances as the 22-year-old Central American mother.

El Salvador’s draconian abortion ban is Catholic doctrine made law, in a nation where church prelates hold great political power. While the bishops’ political power encounters greater checks in the U.S. system of government, it is nonetheless substantial—never mind that the USCCB’s positions on women’s health and rights do not represent the beliefs of most American Catholics.

Bishops’ Political Power and the War on Women

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One need only look at the way in which bishops tried to derail the Affordable Care Act (ACA), holding up the legislation for months through the resistance of several conservative Catholic congressmen, ostensibly because the law would allow women to purchase, with their own money, health-care coverage for abortion (via a convoluted formula designed to satisfy the church fathers—which, of course, it didn’t).

Today the bishops’ jihad against the health-care law rests in the requirement that employer-provided health plans, including those offered by Catholic-affiliated institutions such as universities and hospitals, provide coverage for prescription contraception without a co-pay. Hoping to avoid a conflict with the Catholic bishops, whose doctrine forbids the use of birth control, the administration convinced insurance companies to pay for contraceptive prescriptions in such plans so the Catholic institutions wouldn’t have to, but that did not satisfy church leaders.

The USCCB, working in coalition with members of the Protestant evangelical right, claims the contraception requirement to be an infringement on its religious liberty, since it prevents the bishops from imposing their religious views on the women of many faiths who work in these large institutions, some of which receive federal dollars, whose primary work is not religious in nature. (In many parts of the country, in fact, the only hospital within reach is one affiliated with the Catholic church. In 2009, according to the National Catholic Reporter, Catholic hospitals served one in six U.S. hospital patients.)

As I write, dozens of lawsuits filed by Catholic institutions and agencies against the Obama administration, challenging the ACA contraception policy, are wending their way through the courts—an effort “spearheaded,” according to Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones, by the USCCB. (Many of those institutions are represented by the right-wing Becket Fund, which is led by Catholic conservatives.) Essentially, the church is claiming a right to discriminate against women as a matter of religious liberty, much as Bob Jones University claimed a religious right to discriminate against African Americans, a claim knocked down by the Supreme Court in 1983.

A Cult of Misogyny?

Before you write off Beatriz’s predicament to moral ambiguity on later abortion, it is only fair to consider the whole of the church’s teaching on matters particular to women, exemplified by its proscription on contraception, which finds no standing in the teachings of Jesus or his disciples, or in the consciences of most Catholics, 82 percent of whom reject it, according to a 2012 Gallup poll.

Neither does one find admonitions against women preachers in the teachings of Jesus, yet the Vatican holds fast to its ban on women priests, a doctrine that can only be viewed, in the modern age, as misogynistic.

Despite the many good works of those it claims to lead, the Vatican and the institutional church has a troubled, centuries-old history in the realm of temporal power. At its essence, the hierarchy is, more than anything, a cult of power—a cult whose leaders wish to assure that any future members look and think exactly like them. And that’s what accounts for the prelates’ stunning lack of compassion in matters concerning women.

They’d have you believe, of course, that their concern is for the children of the world—a term they apply liberally, to zygotes, embryos, and fetuses.

Speaking to the website ElSalvador.com, Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador explained why Beatriz, suffering from renal failure and lupus, should be deprived of a potentially life-saving abortion of fetus that lacks the capacity to live much beyond birth:

“I have understood that the child’s mother is not in an intensive care situation,” the archbishop told reporters Rossy Tejada and Jaime Lopez. “For me, who has more danger in [this] pregnancy is the child; there’s an effort to disrupt his life,” he said.

When asked about the child’s life expectancy, he said, “Only God knows how long will this baby live, [not those] who want to kill him before he is born.”

“It Must Be Hard For You”

In 1987, while covering Pope John Paul II’s second U.S. visit for The Nation and Ms. magazine, I interviewed Cardinal Bernard Law, then archbishop of Boston, on a plane carrying the papal press corps. The pope had, the day before, reiterated his objection (actually, he said it was God’s objection) to ordaining women into the priesthood.

“There are two principles that need to be borne in mind,” Law said. “First, the fundamental equality of all persons; secondly, the specific equality of … feminine humanity … I think this is what the Holy Father meant: that the price of that equality must not come at the expense of what it means to be feminine.”

When I asked him to define that, Law replied, “I don’t know. That’s something that needs to be understood and experienced more deeply.”

At the time, I was still grappling with my Catholic heritage, and I was a bit taken aback when Law asked me what I had felt while reporting on the papal tour.

I told him I felt a lot of different things, but that I was often angry, especially about the pope’s hard line against ordaining women.

“Oh, I know. I understand,” he said. “It must be very hard for you.”

In 2002, Law resigned as archbishop of Boston when the pedophile priest scandal exploded in his archdiocese, after it was revealed that Law and his underlings dealt with complaints of priests abusing children by moving those priests to new parishes, where they could abuse more children. The pope stepped in to save him from accountability by whisking him to Rome, where, until 2011, he served as the head of a major basilica, and continues to serve in the Curia.

The most notorious case was that of Fr. John Geoghan, who appears to have molested at least 87 children before he was defrocked in 1997.

Ultimately, Law’s successor settled hundreds of suits, which named Law as a defendant, to the tune of $85 million, according to the Associated Press.

As it turned out, Law’s way of dealing with troublesome pedophile priests was widespread among U.S. Catholic prelates. Some cases claimed the outright rape of boys by priests. Settlements paid out to abuse survivors by various U.S. dioceses now total some $2.5 billion, according to USA Today, leaving some dioceses bankrupt, or nearly so.

So forgive me for my doubts that the bishops’ concern in matters of abortion is about the fetuses they claim to be children. Where the well-being of children is concerned, the church fathers have shown a predilection for protecting their own careers at children’s expense.

No, this is about women—and the hierarchy’s contempt for women. It’s a contempt they believe they should have the liberty to confer on all women, everywhere, through force of law.

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

Democratic Party Platform: Repeal Bans on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde Amendment.”

Democrats voted on their party platform Monday, codifying for the first time the party’s stated commitment to repealing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.

The platform includes a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, an appropriations ban on federal funding for abortion reimplemented on a yearly basis. The amendment disproportionately affects people of color and those with low incomes.

“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” states the Democratic Party platform. “We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

The platform also calls for an end to the Helms Amendment, which ensures that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”

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Though Helms allows funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, the Obama administration has failed to enforce those guarantees.

Despite the platform’s opposition to the restrictions on abortion care funding, it makes no mention of how the anti-choice measures would be rolled back.

Both presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have promised to address Hyde and Helms if elected. Clinton has said she would “fix the Helms Amendment.”

Speaking at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum in January, Clinton said that the Hyde Amendment “is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.” In 2008, Clinton’s campaign told Rewire that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said in an interview with the Weekly Standard that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

“The Hyde amendment and Helms amendment have prevented countless low-income women from being able to make their own decisions about health, family, and future,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement, addressing an early draft of the platform. “These amendments have ensured that a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is a right that’s easier to access if you have the resources to afford it. That’s wrong and stands directly in contrast with the Democratic Party’s principles, and we applaud the Party for reaffirming this in the platform.”