Analysis Violence

A ‘Grim Tally’: Abusers, Guns, and the Women They Kill

Andrea Grimes

While the broken-record question “Why didn't she leave” may never be satisfactorily answered in every situation, we know, definitively, how most U.S. women killed by abusive partners meet their end: They are shot to death.

Karen Cox Smith worked a little later than usual on January 8, 2013, typing up the minutes from a board meeting at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, the prestigious training hospital in a sprawling medical district on the west side of Dallas where she worked as an administrative assistant. Smith was the kind of worker who liked to do things right the first time, and she wanted to type up those notes while they were fresh on her mind.

As board members and doctors left for the evening, they asked her, “Why not walk out with us, like usual?” Ever since her estranged husband, Ferdinand Smith, had assaulted her in December, she’d been leaving work with others, just in case he showed up to cause trouble.

“No,” Smith told them. She’d be fine. She said she’d call security before she left, so they could escort her out.

A few weeks before the recent Christmas holiday, Ferdinand Smith cornered his wife on her way to work, dragging her out of her car in her own driveway. He strangled her and told her that he’d been thinking about it for a while, and he’d decided “today is the day you’re going to die.”

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Desperate, she’d talked him down with pleas and promises of reconciliation, then got back in her car and drove to her office as if nothing had happened.

As it happens, on that January day when Smith was working late, she had called police to confirm her husband’s address. She believed they were on their way to finally arrest him. So when Smith finished up for the day—it was nearing 7:30 p.m.—she didn’t call security, because she didn’t believe she’d need to.

As Smith sent one last email to police, thanking them for finally taking action to pick up her husband, he waited for her out of sight in the hospital parking garage, hidden behind a bank of elevators between a skywalk and her silver Mustang.

This time when he confronted his wife, he was armed with more than a bad temper and brute strength. He came with a gun, and he wasted no time using it on the woman with whom he’d fathered three children. The can of mace that Smith always carried was no match for her husband’s weapon.

When Karen Cox Smith was laid to rest, the only parts of her body made visible were her arm and her hand.

When police finally arrested Ferdinand Smith in the early morning hours of January 9, it was not for shooting his wife to death in a parking garage hours before—which he ultimately confessed to doing—but for that earlier assault in her driveway, back in December.

Ferdinand was asleep when cops knocked on his door. If they’d arrived a few hours earlier, they might have caught him on his way to murder his wife.

Karen Cox Smith’s story is full of might-haves, should-haves, and could-haves, but her mother says she can’t think about it that way, even as she remembers the warning signs she’d seen, but not always recognized, throughout the couple’s 19-year marriage.

“We can second guess ourselves to death,” Sara Horton told Rewire, as she recounted the last few hours of her daughter’s life, as reconstructed for her by Dallas police. “If this had been done or if that had been done.”

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that, on average, more than three women a day are killed by current or former intimate partners in the United States, and many of the should-haves and could-haves that pepper Smith’s relationship with her estranged husband are the same should-haves and could-haves thrown at the thousand or more women who are killed by their partners in this country each year: should have gone to a shelter, should have taken a lethality risk test, could have filed charges, could have testified against him.

The problem with that should-have, could-have conversation is the popular implication that the ability, and the responsibility, to change the behavior of abusive men lies not with the abusers, but with the partners they strike, strangle, and shoot.

It’s why the question “Why didn’t she leave?” is far more common than, “Why did he abuse her?”

But research shows us why she, whoever she might be, didn’t leave: she didn’t have the money, she didn’t want to take the kids out of school, she couldn’t find a shelter, there was no shelter, she was embarrassed, her pastor or her mother or her father or her sister told her a good wife doesn’t give up, her self-esteem was in shreds, she had literally nowhere to go, or she knew that, in leaving, she would put herself in more danger than if she stayed.

But if women can’t be blamed for inciting violence in their partners, or at least scolded for not bailing at the first red flag, the problem of why intimate partner violence happens in the first place, and what to do about it, becomes much more complicated than asking the broken-record question, “Why didn’t she leave?”

What hard evidence does show is that while the “why” may never be satisfactorily answered in every situation, we know, definitively, how most U.S. women killed by abusive partners meet their end: They are shot to death.

According to a 2003 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, the risk of homicide against women increases 500 percent when a gun is present in domestic violence situations, and the FBI estimates that in 2010, 64 percent of women murdered with guns were killed by a current or former intimate partner. The Violence Policy Center reports that in 2010, the number of women shot and killed by partners was six times higher than the number killed by strangers using all other weapons combined.

In Texas, the numbers echo national estimates: the Texas Council on Family Violence reports that, in 2011, firearms were used in 64 percent of 102 cases where women were murdered by current or former intimate partners. The FBI also estimates that, in states where a background check is required for every handgun sale, 38 percent fewer women are shot and killed by abusive partners. Texas is not one of those states.

When it comes to the should-haves and could-haves of domestic violence murders, one “should” appears to be clear: Domestic abusers should not have access to firearms. But abusers can easily sidestep background checks by purchasing from private sellers, or shopping for weapons at a gun show, and efforts to close those loopholes have been thwarted.

Earlier this year, pressure from the national gun lobby overshadowed the overwhelming evidence connecting domestic violence homicides to guns when the U.S. Senate rejected tougher gun laws that would have expanded those background checks and banned some semi-automatic weapons.

Paulette Sullivan Moore with the National Network to End Domestic Violence says that the Second Amendment and tougher gun laws are not mutually exclusive, which makes the Senate’s rejection of the firearms bill that much more heartbreaking.

“The reality is that responsible gun owners also want other gun owners to be responsible,” said Sullivan Moore. Her organization has been speaking with senators who voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act but who are against gun reform, senators who she says are seemingly “unable to make the connection between prior armed violence and violence against women.”

In their 19-year relationship, there’s no evidence that indicates Ferdinand Smith threatened his wife with a gun before he shot and killed her on January 8. But, according to an affidavit written by Karen Cox Smith in her own hand in 1999, he had often hit and strangled her and stalked her in her own home, and he had threatened her with knives on multiple occasions. He also raped her.

Sara Horton said she wished she’d been able to do something to stop her son-in-law over the years, before he got the gun.

“People like him should not have access to guns,” said Horton. “Guns don’t kill people. They don’t shoot themselves.”

What if men with a demonstrable history of domestic violence—men like Ferdinand Smith—couldn’t just walk into a firearms shop or a gun show and purchase a weapon?

Each year, the Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV) releases a report, “Honoring Texas Victims,” that names each woman killed by an intimate partner that year. Sixty-six of the 102 women killed by male partners in 2011, the most recent year for which TCFV has data available, were shot to death. Four of those victims had active protective orders out against their killers; two of those murders involved a firearm, despite the fact that persons with protective orders against them are prohibited from possessing firearms in Texas.

“Firearms are a definite problem in intimate partner relationships,” said TCFV Policy Director Aaron Setliff. He calls his organization’s report a “grim tally,” meant to “change the conversation a little bit,” to tell the stories of women killed by abusive partners.

Female victims of domestic homicide come from across the state, and are of all races and ages, according to the TCFV report: In San Antonio, Aileen Harbridge, 27, was shot and killed at her workplace by her ex-boyfriend, and Antoinette Haynes, 70, was shot and killed by her husband on Thanksgiving Day. In Dallas, 25-year-old Autumn Carey was shot and killed in front of her two children by her ex-boyfriend, who also killed Carey’s stepfather and her sister’s boyfriend.

In far West Texas, Destiny Ann Pickett, 39, was shot and killed by her husband, Clifford, at a motel. He also killed one of her co-workers. In Houston, 45-year-old Lisa Campos was shot in her car by her husband while “in the process of ending their relationship.” Ricky Campos also shot himself. In East Texas, Micah Brown shot his 35-year-old ex-wife in her car while her children were riding with her.

In Corpus Christi, 18-year-old Viviana Amaya and two of her friends were shot and killed by Amaya’s boyfriend. In Fort Worth, Michael Nichols shot his 56-year-old wife, Patricia Jean, as well as her mother. In Austin, 37-year-old Sylvia Richardson was shot and killed by her boyfriend in front of her four children in their home. In Port Arthur, 33-year-old Anna Tran was shot and killed by her boyfriend, Vinh Le, who later shot himself.

These women, coming from a vast array of backgrounds and circumstances, all had one thing in common: They were unable to escape abusive partners who had access to firearms and who used those weapons to kill their partners and, in many cases, the people who tried to intervene.

Aaron Setliff noted that Texas has a five-year prohibition against owning firearms for anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, and while federal law places a permanent prohibition on that same group, the loopholes offered at gun shows and through online purchases make it relatively easy to sidestep that law.

And with some of the most permissive gun laws in the nation already on the books, the Texas legislature this year passed 13 laws making it even easier to obtain and carry firearms.

The occasion was called “Gun Day,” and the new laws ranged from allowing students to carry weapons on state university campuses to reducing the number of classroom hours required to obtain a concealed handgun license from ten to four. The legislature also passed a state law that would “refuse enforcement of any new federal gun laws.”

As a state, says Aaron Setliff at the TCFV, “Texas has a very robust sense of the average person’s ability to possess a firearm.”

In light of “Gun Day,” that may be an understatement.

Where Ferdinand Smith obtained the gun that he used to shoot and kill Karen Cox Smith is, so far, unclear. According to arrest records, he told police in his confession that he obtained his weapon as part of his job as a security guard at a Dallas faith-based charter school, but school officials told Rewire that they never issued Smith a gun as part of his duties. Horton said police told her that they have not recovered the weapon used to kill her daughter. Dallas police have refused to comment on any aspect of the case, citing the ongoing investigation.

What is clear is that for the majority of her 19-year marriage to Ferdinand Smith, Karen Cox Smith lived in fear of her husband. The two had known each other growing up in small-town Daingerfield, Texas, but it wasn’t until college, after Karen had moved back home from Texas Tech University to attend community college near her family, that they began seeing each other. When she became pregnant with their first child, who is now 18, they married.

According to court documents, over the course of their relationship Karen Cox Smith filed for two protective orders against him, the first after he raped her in 1998 at knifepoint in their home county.

Later, in an April 1999 Dallas County affidavit seeking her second protective order, Karen Cox Smith detailed years of abuse, written in two pages of tight cursive:

– “In 1993, Ferdinand threw a can of starch at me, my arm was so swollen I went to RHD [a local hospital] for examination.”

– “When I was pregnant in 10/97, Ferdinand took a butcher knife, pointed it at my stomach, and told me he would kill the baby and I if I ever went to sleep.”

– “Once, he choked me with his hands to the point I lost consciousness. He left me laying in the bathtub while he tried to decide what to do with my body.”

– “I have suffered black eyes, knots on my head, blurry vision, headaches, busted lips, soreness and hoarseness in my throat, handprints on my neck, and cut [sic] on my arm requiring stitches, bruises on my body and legs.”

Then, on March 30, 1999, when the Smiths were separated, Karen came home to find Ferdinand, dressed all in black, hiding in her closet. In her affidavit, she wrote:

“I told him to leave. Ferdinand was in the house for an hour using the phone to call for a ride. I was very afraid. Ferdinand finally left on foot when the ride never appeared. I went around and locked all of the doors that had been unlocked. When I looked on the back porch Ferdinand had come back and was standing there. I was even more afraid.”

Smith let her husband in, telling him she was about to leave. But he blocked her exit. She tried to call the police. Then:

“Ferdinand grabbed me by the shirt and put the knife, a long steak knife, against my throat. He said, ‘I’m going to kill you and kill myself.’”

Ferdinand Smith told his wife that if her mother came to the home, “there would be two dead bodies.” He stabbed a Styrofoam cup that Karen had been holding and told her to sit on the couch, where she pleaded with him to let her go. She wrote that he had two more knives in his pocket as he was “pacing back and forth, crying and screaming that I was taking his children.”

Finally, Smith’s mother, Sara Horton, telephoned as Ferdinand Smith held his wife at knifepoint, and Horton then called 9-1-1. When they came to arrest him, police found another knife that Ferdinand Smith had hidden on his wife’s back porch.

A little over two weeks after the March 30 assault, Karen Cox Smith discovered what she described as “hand restraints” taped to the bed she slept in. After that, she filed for the protective order.

“I believe that the physical violence will continue if I do not receive protection,” she wrote.

It did, but this time the abuse was kept secret as the couple reconciled after Ferdinand Smith spent time in jail and underwent counseling for domestic abusers—“The kids wanted their Daddy, she wouldn’t testify,” remembers Sara Horton. The family began attending a megachurch in South Dallas. Ferdinand Smith volunteered as an usher, said Horton, and he sang in the choir. “From the outside in, it looked like he’d gotten it,” she remembered. “But he hadn’t.”

Karen Cox Smith started spending as much time as possible at work, said Horton. She knew her daughter had a good work ethic—all three of her children did, it was a point of family pride—but looking back now, she realizes it was one of her daughter’s survival tactics.

“[Karen] would work late a lot, and I finally realized after the fact that it was because she didn’t want to come home,” said Horton. “To prevent a fight from happening. Anything to prevent a fight.”

Over the years, Horton and her husband—she divorced Karen’s father in 1994 and moved to Dallas—always planned their bills around whether Smith would need money for her family. Horton said that Ferdinand Smith would often spend great deals of money on himself, leaving his wife with very little in their shared bank account. He never really managed to keep a job. Instead, said Horton, he relied on his wife to be the breadwinner, and when he’d go on spending sprees, he always made sure to bring home shoes or other expensive items for the kids to smooth things over.

Horton said the pastor at the church the family attended, the Inspiring Body of Christ, was no good for her daughter. She said whenever she tried to talk to Karen about the ongoing trouble she suspected at home, Karen would tell her, “I’m just trying to do what my pastor tells me.”

That was frustrating, said Horton, because she doesn’t believe, as that church does, that “any husband in the home, father in the home, is better than no father in the home. That’s not right.”

By late 2012, the couple had separated again, and Karen Cox Smith was living in a home next door to her mother in Dallas. Horton laughed when remembering drive-time phone calls between mother and daughter as they took similar routes to and from work.

“If I’d be ahead of her, I’d tell her, don’t go this way!” Horton said. “I just miss talking to her. I miss her terribly.”

But protective orders and counseling and religious intervention never turned Ferdinand Smith from a violent abuser into a loving husband. And when he got a gun, he became a murderer.

Despite time spent in jail for missing a hearing, Ferdinand Smith received an adjudicated sentence for the 1999 knife assault of his wife, which meant that domestic violence charges would never have shown up on a gun background check after he finished his ten-year probationary period.

It’s possible that Smith purchased the gun he used to murder his wife on the black market, but Texas gun laws are so lax that, even as a convicted domestic abuser, he’d likely have had no need to go to those lengths.

In Texas, where there are no required waiting periods for the purchase of firearms, Smith could have purchased the weapon at a gun show, ordered it online, or purchased it from a private seller without ever going through a federal background check. If he had a concealed handgun license, he could have purchased it directly from a gun store in the state without a background check. Concealed handgun license records are not available to the public in Texas, and there is no statewide gun registry.

Smith’s ability to carry a weapon was a twofold failure. Not only would current gun regulations have allowed him plenty of leeway to obtain a firearm, but checks currently in place would have missed his violent history.

At least in Dallas, in the wake of Karen Cox Smith’s murder, the conversation around domestic violence and guns is changing. In March, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings officially launched an initiative called “Dallas Men Against Domestic Violence” at a rally attended by thousands, featuring former Dallas Cowboy football players, religious leaders, television personalities, and corporate representatives from Verizon and Mary Kay cosmetics.

Volunteers and workers from local domestic violence shelters helped staff booths at the rally, and Paige Flink, executive director of Dallas’ Family Place, says she’s glad to see city leaders come out strong against domestic violence, not in urging women to do more to report it, but in urging men to stop it before it starts. Part of doing that, she says, is to focus on taking guns out of the hands of abusers.

“It’s absolutely concerning that a person who has committed a violent crime can keep a gun and the gun isn’t removed,” she told Rewire. “It is easier to kill someone with a gun than it is to beat someone with a cinder block.”

Jan Langbein, executive director of Dallas’ Genesis Women’s Shelter, said that “the courts have to get the guns away from these guys. It’s so much easier to pull a trigger, plus they can shoot everybody in the room.”

That’s just what Aaron Setliff at the Texas Council on Family Violence, is working on: gun surrender. Instead of working legislatively to change statute, Setliff says his organization works more “programmatically,” on “policies and procedures that work at the local level,” and he’s specifically enthused about programs that create a system for convicted abusers to surrender their weapons to law enforcement.

“This is one area … where we can get both sides of the aisle to move a little bit away from where they have been in the overall gun debate,” said Setliff. “People aren’t necessarily feeling like they are targeted in terms of gun rights when we’re talking about batterers.”

Setliff cited the work of Judge Patricia Macias in El Paso, who in 2005 organized the Domestic Violence Firearm Surrender Advisory Committee to create protocols for the surrender of weapons possessed by domestic abusers. The impetus for the project was not specifically a domestic violence murder, but the death of an El Paso police officer who was shot by an abusive husband while responding to a family violence call. Now, the committee is working on “integration and institutionalization” of the surrender protocols, which detail where, when, and how firearms can be retrieved by law enforcement, whether or not a firearm was used in a particular incident.

“Fatality is the ultimate when it comes to domestic violence, and it’s pretty easy to link it to firearms,” said Setliff. But police need to know when and how they can confiscate weapons, and convicted abusers need to know when and where they should surrender their weapons.

“One of the best indicators of a victim being murdered is a previous instance of domestic violence, so you already have a predictor,” said Setliff. “But going forward, if they haven’t been convicted, the gun issue becomes even more poignant at that level.”

If Ferdinand Smith had somehow been flagged—despite his adjudicated record for the 1999 assault—he might have been stopped from purchasing the gun he used to kill his wife.

Until legislators at the state and national levels draw the connection between the presence of guns and domestic homicide, we can expect to see many more Karen Cox Smiths in the news—though, as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates, 1.3 million women experience physical abuse at the hands of their partners every year in the United States; it’s more than likely that the newspaper is not the only place Americans will come to know the names of domestic violence survivors and victims.

They are our coworkers and our friends, our relatives and ourselves. And the culture of shame that surrounds domestic violence—that erases the responsibility of abusers and places the blame on their partners—obscures the fact that one in four adult women are beaten or raped by a partner.

Sara Horton told Rewire that she has to believe that her daughter’s murder, as violent as it was, happened as it did for a reason, and that she wants to do whatever she can to raise awareness around domestic violence in the aftermath of her daughter’s death. Horton says that after 19 years of abuse, she believes her daughter may have finally reached peace, where she could never find it in her life with Ferdinand Smith.

“I think God scooped her up and took her immediately to heaven,” said Horton. “I think she was gone before she ever hit the concrete. That may sound like Pollyanna, but that’s how I have to look at it in order to get up and go to work every day.”

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 Law and Policy

Texas Lawmaker’s ‘Coerced Abortion’ Campaign ‘Wildly Divorced From Reality’

Teddy Wilson

Anti-choice groups and lawmakers in Texas are charging that coerced abortion has reached epidemic levels, citing bogus research published by researchers who oppose legal abortion care.

A Texas GOP lawmaker has teamed up with an anti-choice organization to raise awareness about the supposed prevalence of forced or coerced abortion, which critics say is “wildly divorced from reality.”

Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) during a press conference at the state capitol on July 13 announced an effort to raise awareness among public officials and law enforcement that forced abortion is illegal in Texas.

White said in a statement that she is proud to work alongside The Justice Foundation (TJF), an anti-choice group, in its efforts to tell law enforcement officers about their role in intervening when a pregnant person is being forced to terminate a pregnancy. 

“Because the law against forced abortions in Texas is not well known, The Justice Foundation is offering free training to police departments and child protective service offices throughout the State on the subject of forced abortion,” White said.

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White was joined at the press conference by Allan Parker, the president of The Justice Foundation, a “Christian faith-based organization” that represents clients in lawsuits related to conservative political causes.

Parker told Rewire that by partnering with White and anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), TJF hopes to reach a wider audience.

“We will partner with anyone interested in stopping forced abortions,” Parker said. “That’s why we’re expanding it to police, social workers, and in the fall we’re going to do school counselors.”

White only has a few months remaining in office, after being defeated in a closely contested Republican primary election in March. She leaves office after serving one term in the state GOP-dominated legislature, but her short time there was marked by controversy.

During the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, she directed her staff to “ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in an email to Rewire that White’s education initiative overstates the prevalence of coerced abortion. “Molly White’s so-called ‘forced abortion’ campaign is yet another example that shows she is wildly divorced from reality,” Busby said.

There is limited data on the how often people are forced or coerced to end a pregnancy, but Parker alleges that the majority of those who have abortions may be forced or coerced.

‘Extremely common but hidden’

“I would say that they are extremely common but hidden,” Parker said. “I would would say coerced or forced abortion range from 25 percent to 60 percent. But, it’s a little hard be to accurate at this point with our data.”

Parker said that if “a very conservative 10 percent” of the about 60,000 abortions that occur per year in Texas were due to coercion, that would mean there are about 6,000 women per year in the state that are forced to have an abortion. Parker believes that percentage is much higher.

“I believe the number is closer to 50 percent, in my opinion,” Parker said. 

There were 54,902 abortions in Texas in 2014, according to recently released statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The state does not collect data on the reasons people seek abortion care. 

White and Parker referenced an oft cited study on coerced abortion pushed by the anti-choice movement.

“According to one published study, sixty-four percent of American women who had abortions felt forced or unduly pressured by someone else to have an unwanted abortion,” White said in a statement.

This statistic is found in a 2004 study about abortion and traumatic stress that was co-authored by David Reardon, Vincent Rue, and Priscilla Coleman, all of whom are among the handful of doctors and scientists whose research is often promoted by anti-choice activists.

The study was cited in a report by the Elliot Institute for Social Sciences Research, an anti-choice organization founded by Reardon. 

Other research suggests far fewer pregnant people are coerced into having an abortion.

Less than 2 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 2004 reported that a partner or parent wanting them to abort was the most important reason they sought the abortion, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute.

That same report found that 24 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 14 percent surveyed in 2004 listed “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion” as one of the reasons that “contributed to their decision to have an abortion.” Eight percent in 1987 and 6 percent in 2004 listed “parents want me to have an abortion” as a contributing factor.

‘Flawed research’ and ‘misinformation’  

Busby said that White used “flawed research” to lobby for legislation aimed at preventing coerced abortions in Texas.

“Since she filed her bogus coerced abortion bill—which did not pass—last year, she has repeatedly cited flawed research and now is partnering with the Justice Foundation, an organization known to disseminate misinformation and shameful materials to crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said.  

White sponsored or co-sponsored dozens of bills during the 2015 legislative session, including several anti-choice bills. The bills she sponsored included proposals to increase requirements for abortion clinics, restrict minors’ access to abortion care, and ban health insurance coverage of abortion services.

White also sponsored HB 1648, which would have required a law enforcement officer to notify the Department of Family and Protective Services if they received information indicating that a person has coerced, forced, or attempted to coerce a pregnant minor to have or seek abortion care.

The bill was met by skepticism by both Republican lawmakers and anti-choice activists.

State affairs committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) told White during a committee hearing the bill needed to be revised, reported the Texas Tribune.

“This committee has passed out a number of landmark pieces of legislation in this area, and the one thing I think we’ve learned is they have to be extremely well-crafted,” Cook said. “My suggestion is that you get some real legal folks to help engage on this, so if you can keep this moving forward you can potentially have the success others have had.”

‘Very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem’

White testified before the state affairs committee that there is a connection between women who are victims of domestic or sexual violence and women who are coerced to have an abortion. “Pregnant women are most frequently victims of domestic violence,” White said. “Their partners often threaten violence and abuse if the woman continues her pregnancy.”

There is research that suggests a connection between coerced abortion and domestic and sexual violence.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, told the American Independent that coerced abortion cannot be removed from the discussion of reproductive coercion.

“Coerced abortion is a very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem, which is violence against women and the impact it has on her health,” Miller said. “To focus on the minutia of coerced abortion really takes away from the really broad problem of domestic violence.”

A 2010 study co-authored by Miller surveyed about 1,300 men and found that 33 percent reported having been involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion; 8 percent reported having at one point sought to prevent a female partner from seeking abortion care; and 4 percent reported having “sought to compel” a female partner to seek an abortion.

Another study co-authored by Miller in 2010 found that among the 1,300 young women surveyed at reproductive health clinics in Northern California, about one in five said they had experienced pregnancy coercion; 15 percent of the survey respondents said they had experienced birth control sabotage.

‘Tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion’

TJF’s so-called Center Against Forced Abortions claims to provide legal resources to pregnant people who are being forced or coerced into terminating a pregnancy. The website includes several documents available as “resources.”

One of the documents, a letter addressed to “father of your child in the womb,” states that that “you may not force, coerce, or unduly pressure the mother of your child in the womb to have an abortion,” and that you could face “criminal charge of fetal homicide.”

The letter states that any attempt to “force, unduly pressure, or coerce” a women to have an abortion could be subject to civil and criminal charges, including prosecution under the Federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

The document cites the 2007 case Lawrence v. State as an example of how one could be prosecuted under Texas law.

“What anti-choice activists are doing here is really egregious,” said Jessica Mason Pieklo, Rewire’s vice president of Law and the Courts. “They are using a case where a man intentionally shot his pregnant girlfriend and was charged with murder for both her death and the death of the fetus as an example of reproductive coercion. That’s not reproductive coercion. That is extreme domestic violence.”

“To use a horrific case of domestic violence that resulted in a woman’s murder as cover for yet another anti-abortion restriction is the very definition of callousness,” Mason Pieklo added.

Among the other resources that TJF provides is a document produced by Life Dynamics, a prominent anti-choice organization based in Denton, Texas.

Parker said a patient might go to a “pregnancy resource center,” fill out the document, and staff will “send that to all the abortionists in the area that they can find out about. Often that will stop an abortion. That’s about 98 percent successful, I would say.”

Reproductive rights advocates contend that the document is intended to mislead pregnant people into believing they have signed away their legal rights to abortion care.

Abortion providers around the country who are familiar with the document said it has been used for years to deceive and intimidate patients and providers by threatening them with legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing an abortion.

Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, previously told Rewire that abortion providers from across the country have reported receiving the forms.

“It’s just another tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion—tricking women into thinking they have signed this and discouraging them from going through with their initial decision and inclination,” Saporta said.

Busby said that the types of tactics used by TFJ and other anti-choice organizations are a form of coercion.

“Everyone deserves to make decisions about abortion free of coercion, including not being coerced by crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said. “Anyone’s decision to have an abortion should be free of shame and stigma, which crisis pregnancy centers and groups like the Justice Foundation perpetuate.”

“Law enforcement would be well advised to seek their own legal advice, rather than rely on this so-called ‘training,” Busby said.