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History > 2012 > USA > Women (I)




Catherine O’Neill,

Advocate for Women and Children,

Dies at 70


December 30, 2012
The New York Times


Catherine O’Neill, whose travels with the International Rescue Committee to refugee camps led her, along with the actress Liv Ullmann and others, to found the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, died Wednesday in Los Angeles. She was 70.

The cause was complications of cancer, her husband, the writer Richard Reeves, said.

Ms. O’Neill, who served on the board of the rescue committee, an aid organization that responds to humanitarian crises, had a professional career that included stops in the private, public and charitable sectors. In the 1970s she ran twice for public office in California — for the State Senate and secretary of state — and she was the finance director for Gov. Jerry Brown’s 1976 presidential campaign.

Ms. O’Neill was the first chairwoman of the commission for women and children, now known as the Women’s Refugee Commission. It was founded in 1989 after she, Ms. Ullmann and others visited camps in Pakistan, Thailand and elsewhere and found, especially in places where war had driven people from their homes, that a special agency was needed, under the umbrella of the International Rescue Committee, to advocate for displaced women and families.

They saw, Mr. Reeves said, that in many camps “the system was run by men and geared to caring for the men.”

“Young men of fighting age were fed first, then the boy children, because they’d be fighters in the future, then the old men and then the women,” he said.

The Women’s Refugee Commission now has a full-time staff of 25 with headquarters in New York. Its advocacy focuses on gender-based violence, migrant rights, sexual and reproductive health, the needs of adolescent girls and other issues.

Catherine Elizabeth Vesey was born in Queens on July 17, 1942. Her parents were immigrants from Ireland. Her father, Patrick Vesey, became a New York City subway conductor; her mother, the former Bridget Ruddy, was a cafeteria worker in city schools.

Catherine graduated from St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn and taught for a year as a Roman Catholic missionary in La Grange, Tex. She later earned a master’s degree in social work from Howard University in Washington and a second master’s, in international affairs, from Columbia. In 1999, Kofi Annan, then secretary general of the United Nations, appointed Ms. O’Neill director of the United Nations Information Center in Washington, a job she held until her retirement in 2007.

He first marriage, to Brian O’Neill, ended in divorce. In addition to her husband, whom she married in 1979, she is survived by two sons from her first marriage, Colin and Conor O’Neill; a daughter, Fiona O’Neill Reeves; a stepdaughter, Cynthia Reeves Fyfe; a stepson, Jeffrey Reeves; a sister, Mary Ann Garvey; a grandchild; and three step-grandchildren.

    Catherine O’Neill, Advocate for Women and Children, Dies at 70, NYT, 30.12.2012,






How to Attack the Gender Wage Gap? Speak Up


December 15, 2012
The New York Times


ANNIE HOULE, grandmother of seven, holds up a stack of pink dollar bills.

“How many of you know about the wage gap?” she asks a roomful of undergraduates, almost all of them women, at the College of Mount St. Vincent in the Bronx.

A few hands go up.

“Now, how many of you worry about being able to afford New York City when you graduate?”

The room laughs. That’s a given.

Ms. Houle is the national director of a group called the WAGE Project, which aims to close the gender pay gap. She explains that her dollar bills represent the amounts that women will make relative to men, on average, once they enter the work force.

Line them up next to a real dollar, and the difference is stark: 77 cents for white women; 69 cents for black women. The final dollar — so small that it can fit in a coin purse, represents 57 cents, for Latina women. On a campus that is two-thirds women, many have heard these numbers before. Yet holding them up next to one another is sobering.

“I’m posting this to Facebook,” one woman says.

One of three male students in the room is heading to the photocopier to make copies for his mother.

Another woman in the group sees a triple threat. “This is crazy,” Dominique Remy, a senior studying communications, says, holding the pink cutouts in her hand. “What if I’m all of them? My mother is Latina. My father is Haitian. I’m a woman.”

I’ve come to this workshop amazed that it exists — and wishing that there had been a version of it when I was in school.

I grew up in the Girl Power moment of the 1980s, outpacing my male peers in school and taking on extracurricular activities by the dozen. I soared through high school and was accepted to the college of my choice. And yet, when I landed in the workplace, it seemed that I’d had a particularly rosy view.

When I was hired as a reporter at Newsweek, I took the first salary number that was offered; I felt lucky to be getting a job at all.

But a few years in, by virtue of much office whispering and a few pointed questions, I realized that the men around me were making more than I was, and more than many of my female colleagues. Despite a landmark sex discrimination lawsuit filed against the magazine in 1970, which paved the way for women there and at other publications to become writers, we still had a long way to go, it turned out.

When I tried to figure out why my salary was comparatively lower, it occurred to me: couldn’t I have simply asked for more? The problem was that I was terrified at the prospect. When I finally mustered up the nerve, I made my pitch clumsily, my voice shaking and my face beet red. I brought along a printed list of my accomplishments, yet I couldn’t help but feel boastful saying them out loud. While waiting to hear whether I would get the raise (I did), I agonized over whether I should have asked at all.

This fear of asking is a problem for many women: we are great advocates for others, but paralyzed when it comes to doing it for ourselves.

BACK at the Bronx workshop, Ms. Houle flips on a projector and introduces Tina and Ted, two fictional graduates whose profiles match what’s typical of the latest data. Tina and Ted graduated from the same university, with the same degree. They work the same number of hours, in the same type of job. And yet, as they start their first jobs, Ted is making $4,000 more than Tina. In the second year, the difference has added up to almost $9,500. Why?

“Maybe he just talked up his work more,” one woman, a marketing major, suggests.

“Maybe he was mentored by other men,” another says.

“Or maybe,” chimes in a third, a nursing student, “she didn’t know that she could negotiate.”

Bingo. Over the next three hours, these women are going to learn how to do it — and to do it well.

There has clearly been much progress since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, mandating that men and women be paid equally for equal work. Yet nearly 50 years later, if you look at the data, progress toward that goal has stalled.

Of course, not all statistics are created equal. Some account for education and life choices like childbearing; some don’t. But if you sift through the data, the reality is still clear: the gender gap persists — and it persists for young, ambitious, childless women, too.

In October, the American Association of University Women — co-sponsor of the Mount St. Vincent program — offered a report called “Graduating to a Pay Gap,” in which it determined that in their first year out of college, women working full time earned just 82 percent of what their male peers did, on average. Again, women’s choices — college major, occupation, hours at work — could account for some of this. Even so, the A.A.U.W. determined that one-third of the gap remained unexplained.

For years, legislators and women’s advocates have been seeking solutions. In many ways, the wage gap is a complicated problem tied to culture, tradition and politics. But one part of it can be traced to a simple fact: many women just don’t negotiate, or are penalized if they do. In fact, they are one-quarter as likely as men to do so, according to statistics from Carnegie Mellon University. So rather than wax academic about the issue, couldn’t we simply teach women some negotiation skills?

Ms. Houle, along with Evelyn Murphy, the WAGE Project president and a former Massachusetts lieutenant governor, aims to do just that. For almost seven years, Ms. Houle has been training facilitators around the country and introducing their program into schools. (WAGE stands for “women aim to get even.”)

Now, working in conjunction with the A.A.U.W., they plan to have negotiation workshops — called Smart Start — in place by spring in more than 300 colleges and universities nationwide. Nearly 30 colleges have already signed up for three-year commitments.

Several other organizations have also begun working with schools, Girl Scout programs and Y.W.C.A.’s to coach women before they enter the work force.

At Smith College, the Center for Work and Life recently began a program called Leadership for Rebels that teaches young women assertive communication skills, through role-playing and workshops. At Carnegie Mellon, the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management will start its first Negotiation Academy for Women next month, led by the economist Linda Babcock. She is also the founder of a program called “Progress” that aims to teach similar skills to 7- to 12-year-old girls.

“I do think that people are really starting to take this idea seriously,” says Professor Babcock, a co-author of “Women Don’t Ask.” “I think they’re starting to understand that we have to train the next generation of women when they’re young.”

At Mount St. Vincent, the Smart Start workshop is broken into sections: understanding the wage gap, learning one’s worth on the market, and practical negotiation, in which students use role-playing in job-offer situations.

Women learn never to name a salary figure first, and to provide a range, not a number, if they’re pressed about it. They are coached not to offer up a figure from their last job, unless explicitly asked. The use of terms like “initial offer” — it’s not final! — is pounded into them. And, perhaps most important, they learn never, ever, to say yes to an offer immediately.

“I can’t tell you how many times I hear stories of women who go into a negotiation saying, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you so much, I’ll take it!’” says Ms. Houle, noting that one student she coached even hugged her boss. “Here these women are, more educated than ever, incurring incredible debt to get that education, and they’re going to take whatever they’re offered. It’s like, ‘No, no, no!’ “

Many reasons exist for women’s fears about asking for higher pay.

There’s the fear of being turned down. (“I think we take rejection personally,” Ms. Murphy says.) There’s the economy. (If you negotiate in a tough market, might the offer be rescinded?) There’s the fact that women, in general, are less likely to take risks — a business asset in the long run, but one that can make advocating for themselves tricky. There’s also the reality that many women have internalized the idea that asking is somehow not ladylike.

“Girls and women intuit that speaking up can be dangerous to your reputation — that asking for too much can be viewed as conceited or cocky,” says Rachel Simmons, co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute and a creator of the Leadership for Rebels program at Smith. “This may begin on the playground, but it extends all the way into the workplace.”

Research by the Harvard senior lecturer Hanna Riley Bowles and others has found that women who negotiate are considered pushy and less likable — and, in some cases, less likely to be offered jobs as a result.

That’s why women’s approach to negotiation is crucial. In one study, from Professor Babcock at Carnegie Mellon, men and women asked for raises using identical scripts. People liked the men’s style. But the women were branded as aggressive — unless they gave a smile while they asked, or appeared warm and friendly. In other words, they conformed to feminine stereotypes.

“The data shows that men are able to negotiate for themselves without facing any negative consequences, but when women negotiate, people often like them less and want to work with them less,” says Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, whose forthcoming book “Lean In” is about women and leadership. “Even if women haven’t studied this or seen this data, they often implicitly understand this, so they hold back.”

So, it’s a balancing act. Ask, but ask nicely. Demand, but with a smile. It’s not fair — yet understanding these dynamics can be the key to overcoming them, Ms. Sandberg says.

The good news is that all of these things can be learned. In 2003, when Professor Babcock was conducting research for her book, she surveyed Carnegie Mellon graduates of the management school, determining that 13 percent of women had negotiated the salaries in the jobs they’d accepted, versus 52 percent of men. Four years later, after a lengthy book tour and talking relentlessly about these issues on campus, she found that the numbers had flipped: 68 percent of women negotiated, versus 65 percent of men.

Ms. Simmons put it this way: “This is about muscles that need to be developed. This is about practice.”

AND practice they will, one workshop at a time.

At the session at Mount St. Vincent, the women researched median wages and practiced speaking clearly and warmly. They tried to remember the three T’s: tone (be positive but persuasive), tactics (never name a salary figure first) and tips (sell yourself, but anticipate objections; don’t get too personal, but be personal enough).

“It was nerve-racking,” said Ria Grant, a nursing student.

“I stuttered,” recalled Danielle Heumegni, a sociology major.

And yet they felt good.

“I realized there’s a way to sell myself without feeling uncomfortable,” Dominique Remy said.

“You won’t get anything if you don’t at least try,” said Erika Pichardo.

“This,” Ms. Heumegni said, waving her set of pink dollar bills in the air, “was my aha! moment.”


Jessica Bennett is the executive editor of Tumblr.

    How to Attack the Gender Wage Gap? Speak Up, NYT, 15.12.2012,






How Romney Would Treat Women


November 3, 2012
The New York Times


IN this year’s campaign furor over a supposed “war on women,” involving birth control and abortion, the assumption is that the audience worrying about these issues is just women.

Give us a little credit. We men aren’t mercenaries caring only for Y chromosomes. We have wives and daughters, mothers and sisters, and we have a pretty intimate stake in contraception as well.

This isn’t like a tampon commercial on television, leaving men awkwardly examining their fingernails. When it comes to women’s health, men as well as women need to pay attention. Just as civil rights wasn’t just a “black issue,” women’s rights and reproductive health shouldn’t be reduced to a “women’s issue.”

To me, actually, talk about a “war on women” in the United States seems a bit hyperbolic: in Congo or Darfur or Afghanistan, I’ve seen brutal wars on women, involving policies of rape or denial of girls’ education. But whatever we call it, something real is going on here at home that would mark a major setback for American women — and the men who love them.

On these issues, Mitt Romney is no moderate. On the contrary, he is considerably more extreme than President George W. Bush was. He insists, for example, on cutting off money for cancer screenings conducted by Planned Parenthood.

The most toxic issue is abortion, and what matters most for that is Supreme Court appointments. The oldest justice is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a 79-year-old liberal, and if she were replaced by a younger Antonin Scalia, the balance might shift on many issues, including abortion.

One result might be the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which for nearly four decades has guaranteed abortion rights. If it is overturned, abortion will be left to the states — and in Mississippi or Kansas, women might end up being arrested for obtaining abortions.

Frankly, I respect politicians like Paul Ryan who are consistently anti-abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. I disagree with them, but their position is unpopular and will cost them votes, so it’s probably heartfelt as well as courageous. I have less respect for Romney, whose positions seem based only on political calculations.

Romney’s campaign Web site takes a hard line. It says that life begins at conception, and it gives no hint of exceptions in which he would permit abortion. The Republican Party platform likewise offers no exceptions. Romney says now that his policy is to oppose abortion with three exceptions: rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at stake.

If you can figure out Romney’s position on abortion with confidence, tell him: at times it seems he can’t remember it. In August, he abruptly added an exception for the health of the mother as well as her life, and then he backed away again.

Romney has also endorsed a “personhood” initiative treating a fertilized egg as a legal person. That could lead to murder charges for an abortion, even to save the life of a mother.

In effect, Romney seems to have jumped on board a Republican bandwagon to tighten access to abortion across the board. States passed a record number of restrictions on abortion in the last two years. In four states, even a woman who is seeking an abortion after a rape may be legally required to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound.

If politicians want to reduce the number of abortions, they should promote family planning and comprehensive sex education. After all, about half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which conducts research on reproductive health.

Yet Romney seems determined to curb access to contraceptives. His campaign Web site says he would “eliminate Title X family planning funding,” a program created in large part by two Republicans, George H. W. Bush and Richard Nixon.

Romney has boasted that he would cut off all money for Planned Parenthood — even though federal assistance for the organization has nothing to do with abortions. It pays for such things as screenings to reduce breast cancer and cervical cancer.

Romney’s suspicion of contraception goes way back. As governor of Massachusetts, he vetoed a bill that would have given women who were raped access to emergency contraception.

Romney also wants to reinstate the “global gag rule,” which barred family planning money from going to aid organizations that even provided information about abortion. He would cut off money for the United Nations Population Fund, whose work I’ve seen in many countries — supporting contraception, repairing obstetric fistulas, and fighting to save the lives of women dying in childbirth.

So when you hear people scoff that there’s no real difference between Obama and Romney, don’t believe them.

And it’s not just women who should be offended at the prospect of a major step backward. It’s all of us.

    How Romney Would Treat Women, NYT, 3.11.2012,






Want a Real Reason to Be Outraged?


October 27, 2012
The New York Times


THE silliness began when Todd Akin claimed during his Senate campaign in Missouri that in the case of “legitimate rape,” women “shut that whole thing down” to prevent pregnancy. Then, a few days ago, Richard Mourdock of Indiana seemed to blame God for such pregnancies, saying this was “something God intended to happen.” I think God should sue him for defamation.

But our political system jumps all over verbal stupidity, while giving a pass to stupid policies. If we’re offended by insensitive words about rape, for example, shouldn’t we be incomparably more upset that rape kits are routinely left untested in the United States? And wouldn’t it be nice if Democrats, instead of just firing sound bites, tackled these underlying issues?

A bit of background: A rape kit is the evidence, including swabs with DNA, taken at a hospital from a woman’s (or man’s) body after a rape. Testing that DNA costs $1,200 or more. Partly to save money, those rape kits often sit untested for years on the shelves of police storage rooms, particularly if the victim didn’t come outfitted with a halo.

By most accounts, hundreds of thousands of these untested kits are stacked up around the country. In Illinois, 80 percent of rape kits were going untested as of 2010, Human Rights Watch reported at the time — embarrassing the state to begin a push to test all rape kits.

In Michigan, the Wayne County prosecutor, Kym Worthy, said she was shocked to discover more than 11,000 rape kits lying around untested — some dating to the 1980s. Worthy said that her office is now going through the backlog and testing those that are running into statute of limitations deadlines.

So far, of 153 kits tested, 21 match evidence in a criminal database and may involve serial rapists. But Worthy, who herself was raped while she was in law school, says the broader problem is indifference to sex crimes.

“Sexual assault is the stepchild of the law enforcement system,” she said. “When rape victims come into the criminal justice system, they are often treated poorly. They may be talked out of pursuing the case.”

The bottom line, Worthy said, is that “sexual assault is not taken as seriously as other crimes.” That — more than any offensive words — is the real scandal.

Kamala Harris, the attorney general of California, eliminated the rape kit backlog in state crime labs after she took office. “If you don’t test it, you’ve got a victim who is absolutely petrified, and you’ve got a rapist who thinks he got away with it,” she said. “There could be nothing worse as a continuing threat to public safety.”

The lackadaisical attitude toward much sexual violence is seen in another astonishing fact: Sometimes, women or their health insurance companies must pay to have their rape kits collected.

“No other forensic evidence collection is treated in this way,” said Sarah Tofte of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which has focused attention on the rape kit backlog. If her home is broken into, she notes, the police won’t bill her or her homeowner’s insurance company “for the cost of dusting for fingerprints.”

Yet another indication of cavalier attitudes: In 31 states, if a rape leads to a baby, the rapist can get visitation rights. That doesn’t happen often, but the issue does come up. In Massachusetts, a convicted rapist is suing for access to the child he fathered when he raped a 14-year-old girl.

One way to start turning around this backward approach to sex crimes would be to support the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (Safer) Act, a bipartisan bill in Congress that would help local jurisdictions count and test their rape kits.

According to data from the Department of Justice, one person in the United States is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes. A slight majority of rapes are never reported to the police, and others are never solved. For every 100 rapes, only three lead to any jail time for the rapist, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

There has been plenty of outrage this year, justifiably, at the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts and Penn State for averting their eyes from sexual abuse of children. Yet America as a whole typically does the same thing when it comes to the trafficking of teenage girls by pimps, which amounts to rape many times a day. The police often treat those girls as criminals, rather than victims, even as the pimps get away.

These problems are not insoluble, and we are seeing progress. Some prosecutors are going after pimps in a serious way, and according to surveys, sexual assault has fallen by 60 percent over the last couple of decades. Even the furor over the comments by Senate candidates shows that times are changing.

So, sure, let’s pounce on politicians who say outrageous things. But even more, let’s push to end outrageous policies. Routine testing of rape kits would be a good start.


I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground.

Please also join me on Facebook and Google+,

watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.

    Want a Real Reason to Be Outraged?, NYT, 27.10.2012,






‘Gender Gap’ Near Historic Highs


October 21, 2012
5:59 pm
The New York Times


If only women voted, President Obama would be on track for a landslide re-election, equaling or exceeding his margin of victory over John McCain in 2008. Mr. Obama would be an overwhelming favorite in Ohio, Florida, Virginia and most every other place that is conventionally considered a swing state. The only question would be whether he could forge ahead into traditionally red states, like Georgia, Montana and Arizona.

If only men voted, Mr. Obama would be biding his time until a crushing defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney, who might win by a similar margin to the one Ronald Reagan realized over Jimmy Carter in 1980. Only California, Illinois, Hawaii and a few states in the Northeast could be considered safely Democratic. Every other state would lean red, or would at least be a toss-up.

Although polls disagree on the exact magnitude of the gender gap (and a couple of recent ones seemed to show Mitt Romney eliminating the president's advantage with women voters), the consensus of surveys points to a large one this year - rivaling the biggest from past elections.

The gender gap is nothing new in American politics. Since 1972, when exit polling became widespread, men and women split their votes in three elections: 1996, 2000, and 2004. They came close to doing so on several other occasions. In 2008, for example, Mr. Obama won resoundingly among women, beating Mr. McCain by 13 points, but only won by a single point among men.

The biggest gender gap to date in the exit polls came in 2000, when Al Gore won by 11 points among women, but George W. Bush won by 9 points among men - a 20-point difference. The numbers this year look very close to that.

Since the first presidential debate in Denver, there have been 10 high-quality national polls that reported a breakout of results between men and women. (I define a "high-quality" poll as one that used live telephone interviews, and which called both landlines and cellphones. These polls will collect the most representative samples and should provide for the most reliable benchmarks of demographic trends.)

The results in the polls were varied, with the gender gap ranging from 33 points (in a Zogby telephone poll for the Washington Times) to just 8 (in polls by Pew Research and by The Washington Post). On average, however, there was an 18-point gender gap, with Mr. Obama leading by an average of 9 points among women but trailing by 9 points among men.

If that difference carries forward to the exit polls, it would reflect among the largest gender splits ever, rivaling the 20-point difference from 2000, and a 17-point difference in both 1980 and 1996.

The gender gap has been growing over time. It was nearly absent, for instance, in 1972 and 1976, the first two years that the exit polls tested it.

But after the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, reproductive rights became a greater focus in presidential elections -- particularly under Ronald Reagan in 1980, who was more willing to campaign on the issue of abortion than most of his predecessors. The gender gap jumped to 17 points that year, with men much more likely to vote for Mr. Reagan.

The gender gap has sometimes been widest when there is a Democratic president running for re-election, as in 1980 or 1996 (or a Democratic vice president looking to ascend to the presidency, as in 2000). Women, apart from their tendency to vote Democratic, also seem slightly more inclined than men to give the incumbent party another chance. When the incumbent is a Republican, as in 1976 or 1992, this can mitigate the gender gap. When the incumbent is a Democrat instead, as for Mr. Obama this year, both trends operate in the same direction, making it wider.

One area where gender politics is less important is in planning Electoral College strategy, since roughly equal numbers of men and women vote in each state. Nevertheless, the Electoral College can serve as a way to demonstrate to scope of the difference in how men and women vote.

If the current FiveThirtyEight forecast were re-calibrated to show an overall 10-point lead for Mr. Obama -- his lead among women in polls since the Denver debate -- he would be a clear favorite in states totaling 347 electoral votes. Mr. Romney would be favored in states containing just 140 electoral votes. Another 51 electoral votes would be too close to call.

About the opposite would happen if Mr. Romney led nationally by 9 points -- his current advantage among men. He would be all but certain to win states with a total of 321 electoral votes, and would be highly competitive in traditionally blue-leaning states like New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.

The large gender gap comes despite the fact that men and women's economic roles are becoming more equal -- according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women represented 47 percent of the labor force as of September -- and that women suffered at least as much as men in the recent economic downturn.

The unemployment rate among women was 7.5 percent as of September -- up from 7.0 percent when Mr. Obama took office in January 2009.

The unemployment rate among men is higher -- 8.0 percent as of September -- but it has declined rather than increased since Mr. Obama took office. It had been 8.6 percent in January 2009, and peaked at as high as 11.2 percent later that year.

This suggests the gender gap instead has more to do with partisan ideology than with pocketbook voting; apart from their views on abortion, women also take more liberal stances than men on social issues ranging from same-sex marriage to gun control.

Presidential candidates have faced increasing pressure to align with the bases of their parties on social issues. Mr. Obama reversed his previous position to support same-sex marriage this year. Mr. Romney has long since abandoned a number of moderate stances he took on social issues as governor of Massachusetts, when he said he supported abortion rights. So long as the ideological gap between the parties grows, the gender gap may grow as well.

    ‘Gender Gap’ Near Historic Highs, NYT, 21.10.2012,






A World of Harm for Women


October 19, 2012
The New York Times


If Mitt Romney and his vice-presidential running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, were to win next month’s election, the harm to women’s reproductive rights would extend far beyond the borders of the United States.

In this country, they would support the recriminalization of abortion with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and they would limit access to contraception and other services. But they have also promised to promote policies abroad that would affect millions of women in the world’s poorest countries, where lack of access to contraception, prenatal care and competent help at childbirth often results in serious illness and thousands of deaths yearly. And the wreckage would begin on Day 1 of a Romney administration.

Mr. Romney has pledged that, on his first day in the White House, he would reinstate the “global gag rule,” the odious restriction that has been used to deny federal money for family-planning work abroad to any organization that provided information, advice, referrals or services for legal abortion or supported the legalization of abortion, even using its own money.

Merely talking about abortion could cost groups not only federal money, but also useful technical support and American-donated supplies of contraceptives, including condoms for distribution in the communities they serve.

The gag rule, also known as the “Mexico City policy,” was imposed by the last three Republican presidents, beginning with Ronald Reagan in 1984. It was rescinded by President Bill Clinton in 1993, then reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2001. President Obama, fulfilling a campaign pledge, signed an executive order lifting the global gag rule shortly after taking office in 2009.

The gag rule did nothing to prevent use of government financing for abortions because that was already illegal under federal law. But it badly hampered the work of family-planning groups overseas, forcing clinic closures, reduced services and fee increases. It also violated principles of informed consent by requiring health care providers to withhold medical information from female patients. And, by stifling political debate on abortion-related issues and violating free speech principles, the gag rule badly undermined America’s credibility as it tries to promote democracy abroad.

Republican opponents of family planning and women’s reproductive autonomy in Congress have been trying to reinstate the gag rule by legislation. If elected, Mr. Romney has said he would do so with a stroke of the pen.

Mr. Romney also vows to renew another of George W. Bush’s shameful policies (which was ended by President Obama), which blocked the United States from contributing to the United Nations Population Fund. That fund supports programs in some 150 countries to improve poor women’s reproductive health, reduce infant mortality, end the sexual trafficking of women and prevent the spread of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Romney has embraced the bogus charge that the Population Fund supports coerced abortions in China, ignoring a State Department investigation that found no evidence for that claim. In fact, the fund has helped promote a voluntary approach to family planning.

The annual federal contribution to the fund is now down to $35 million, compared with $55 million in fiscal years 2010 and 2011; overall support for international family planning and reproductive health programs stands at $610 million — far short of the need. Even so, this amount of money pays for contraceptive services and supplies that reach more than 31 million women and couples, averting 9.4 million unintended pregnancies, 4 million abortions (three-quarters of them unsafe) and 22,000 maternal deaths annually, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

House Republicans want to cut the nation’s investment in international family planning severely. Mr. Romney’s record of bending to suit the most extreme elements of the Republican Party suggests that he may well go along on this critical issue as well.

    A World of Harm for Women, NYT, 19.10.2012,






Elite Women Put a New Spin on an Old Debate


June 21, 2012
The New York Times


If a woman has a sterling résumé, a supportive husband who speaks fluent car pool and a nurturing boss who just happens to be one of the most powerful women in the world herself, who or what is to blame if Ms. Supposed-to-Have-It-All still cannot balance work and family?

A magazine article by a former Obama administration official has blown up into an instant debate about a new conundrum of female success: women have greater status than ever before in human history, even outpacing men in education, yet the lineup at the top of most fields is still stubbornly male. Is that new gender gap caused by women who give up too easily, unsympathetic employers or just nature itself?

The article in The Atlantic, by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor who recently left a job at the State Department, added to a renewed feminist conversation that is bringing fresh twists to bear on longstanding concerns about status, opportunity and family. Unlike earlier iterations, it is being led not by agitators who are out of power, but by elite women at the top of their fields, like the comedian Tina Fey, the Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and now Ms. Slaughter. In contrast to some earlier barrier-breakers from Gloria Steinem to Condoleezza Rice, these women have children, along with husbands who do as much child-rearing as they do, or more.

The conversation came to life in part because of a compelling face-off of issues and personalities: Ms. Slaughter, who urged workplaces to change and women to stop blaming themselves, took on Ms. Sandberg, who has somewhat unintentionally come to epitomize the higher-harder-faster school of female achievement.

Starting a year and a half ago, Ms. Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, injected new energy into the often circular work-or-home debate with videotaped talks that became Internet sensations. After bemoaning the lack of women in top business positions, she instructed them to change their lot themselves by following three rules: require your partner to do half the work at home, don’t underestimate your own abilities, and don’t cut back on ambition out of fear that you won’t be able to balance work and children.

The talks transformed Ms. Sandberg from little-known executive to the new face of female achievement, earning her untold letters and speaking invitations, along with micro-inspection of her life for clues to career success. She hired a sociologist, Marianne Cooper, to help her get the research and data right. When Ms. Sandberg confessed in a recent interview that, contrary to her work-hound reputation, she leaves work at 5:30 p.m. to eat dinner with her children, and returns to a computer later, she earned yet another round of attention, and her words were taken as the working-mom equivalent of a papal ruling.

But her advice also spurred quiet skepticism: by putting even more pressure on women to succeed, was she, even unintentionally, blaming the victim if they did not?

Enter Ms. Slaughter’s article, posted Wednesday night, in which she described a life that looked like a feminist diorama from the outside (a mother and top policy adviser for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton) but was accompanied by domestic meltdown (workweeks spent in a different state than her family, a rebellious teenage son to whom she had little time to attend). As she questioned whether her job in Washington was doable and at what cost, she began hearing from younger women who complained about advice like Ms. Sandberg’s.

“Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with ... because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation,” Ms. Slaughter wrote. “But when many members of the younger generation have stopped listening, on the grounds that glibly repeating ‘you can have it all’ is simply airbrushing reality, it is time to talk.”

“Although couched in terms of encouragement, Sandberg’s exhortation contains more than a note of reproach,” Ms. Slaughter continued, an insinuation of “What’s the matter with you?’”

Instead, Ms. Slaughter said, the workplace needs to adapt, and women who opt out have no need to apologize.

In an interview, Ms. Slaughter added that she was motivated to write in part by her concern about the number of women serving in high posts under President Obama — and now that the first round of female appointees is leaving, she said, they are mostly being replaced by men. “I don’t think there is sufficient appreciation across the administration as a whole of the different circumstances facing women and men,” she said.

Unlike in earlier eras, when Germaine Greer would publish one book and then Betty Friedan would weigh in months later, a new crop of feminist bloggers and writers now respond instantaneously. The women they were writing about followed along in real time on Thursday as well, reading the debate as they were living it, inhaling Ms. Slaughter’s article and the responses as they stole a few minutes from work or raced off to pick up their children. By Thursday afternoon, Ms. Slaughter’s confession-slash-manifesto was breaking readership records for The Atlantic’s Web site, according to a magazine representative.

Many responded with enthusiasm for Ms. Slaughter’s recommendations (more latitude to work at home, career breaks, matching work schedules to school schedules, even freezing eggs). Some defended Ms. Sandberg or expressed solidarity with their husbands, who they said feel just as much work-life agita as they do. More than a few said they were irritated by what they called outdated language (“having it all”) and a clichéd cover illustration (Baby, check. Briefcase, check).

“Irresponsibly conflating liberation with satisfaction, the ‘have it all’ formulation sets an impossible bar for female success and then ensures that when women fail to clear it, it’s feminism — as opposed to persistent gender inequity — that’s to blame,” Rebecca Traister wrote in an article on Salon.com.

For her part, Ms. Sandberg remained silent, declining a request to address the Atlantic article. But Ms. Slaughter said in an interview that the Silicon Valley executive was one of the many readers who e-mailed her as soon as the article came out. Her message: they had to talk more about this, and soon.

    Elite Women Put a New Spin on an Old Debate, NYT, 21.6.2012,






She Has a Pimp’s Name Etched on Her


May 23, 2012
The New York Times


We think of branding as something ranchers do to their cattle. But it’s also what pimps do to women and girls they control across America.

Taz, a 16-year-old girl here in New York City, told me that her pimp had branded three other girls with tattoos bearing his name. When she refused the tattoo, she said, he held her down and carved his name on her back with a safety pin.

More about Taz in a moment. That kind of branding isn’t universal, but it’s very common. An alleged pimp indicted last month in Manhattan is accused of tattooing his street name on a prostitute’s neck, along with a bar code. He allegedly tattooed another prostitute with a symbol of his name on her pubic area, along with a dollar sign. In each case, the message was clear: They were his property, and they were for sale.

Such branding is a reminder that women being sold on the streets in America are — not always, but often — victims rather than criminals. That consciousness is spreading, and we are finally seeing considerable progress in tackling domestic sex trafficking.

So far, in 2012, states have passed more than 40 laws relating to human trafficking, according to Megan Fowler of Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking organization.

Prosecutors and police are increasingly targeting pimps and johns, and not just the women and girls who are their victims. In Manhattan, the district attorney’s office recently started a sex trafficking program and just secured its most comprehensive indictments for sex trafficking. Likewise, a federal prosecutor in Virginia brought sex trafficking charges last month against a man accused of selling a 14-year-old girl in several states.

Now President Obama is said to be planning an initiative on human trafficking. I’m hoping that he will direct the attorney general to make sex trafficking a higher federal priority and call on states to pass “safe harbor” laws that treat prostituted teenage girls as victims rather than criminals.

The other important shift is growing pressure on Backpage.com, a classified advertising Web site that dominates the sex trafficking industry. Calls for Village Voice Media, which owns Backpage, to end its links to sex trafficking have come from attorneys general from 48 states, dozens of mayors from around the country, and some 240,000 Americans who have signed a petition on Change.org.

Resolutions are pending in the Senate and House calling on Village Voice Media to get out of this trade. At least 34 advertisers have dropped Village Voice Media publications, including the flagship, Village Voice in New York City.

In its defense, Village Voice Media notes that it screens ads and cooperates with the police. That’s true, but Taz — the 16-year-old with her former pimp’s name carved into her back — told me that three-quarters of her “dates” had come from Backpage.

I met Taz at Gateways, a treatment center outside New York City. She told me that she ran away from home in New York City at the age of 14 and eventually ended up in the hands of a violent 20-year-old pimp who peddled her on Backpage.

Skeptics mostly believe that prostitutes sell sex voluntarily, while anti-trafficking advocates sometimes suggest that they are almost all forced into the trade. The truth is more complicated.

Taz wasn’t locked up, and, at times, she felt a romantic bond with her pimp. She distrusted the police — with reason, for when officers found her in December, they arrested her and locked her up for four months in juvenile detention.

Yet Taz wasn’t exactly selling sex by choice, either. She said her pimp issued his four girls a daily quota of money to earn; if they didn’t, he would beat them. They could never leave, either, Taz said, and she explained what happened when her pimp caught her trying to run away:

“I got drowned,” she recalled. “He choked me, put me in the tub, and when I woke up, I was drowning. He said he’d kill me if I left.”

Another time, Taz says, she tried to call 911. “He hit me over the head with a glass bottle,” she recalls. Then he ordered another of his girls to sweep up the broken glass.

I bet the police looked at Taz and saw an angry, defiant prostitute who hated them and didn’t want to be rescued. There was an element of truth to that. But there’s another side as well, now visible, and it underscores the importance of helping these girls rather than giving up on them. Taz is emerging as a smart, ambitious girl with dazzling potential. She loves reading and writing, and when I asked her what she wanted to be when she grows up, she smiled a bit self-consciously.

“I’d like to be a pediatrician,” she said.

    She Has a Pimp’s Name Etched on Her, NYT, 23.7.2012,






More Men Enter Fields Dominated by Women


May 20, 2012
The New York Times


HOUSTON — Wearing brick-red scrubs and chatting in Spanish, Miguel Alquicira settled a tiny girl into an adult-size dental chair and soothed her through a set of X-rays. Then he ushered the dentist, a woman, into the room and stayed on to serve as interpreter.

A male dental assistant, Mr. Alquicira is in the minority. But he is also part of a distinctive, if little noticed, shift in workplace gender patterns. Over the last decade, men have begun flocking to fields long the province of women.

Mr. Alquicira, 21, graduated from high school in a desolate job market, one in which the traditional opportunities, like construction and manufacturing, for young men without a college degree had dried up. After career counselors told him that medical fields were growing, he borrowed money for an eight-month training course. Since then, he has had no trouble finding jobs that pay $12 or $13 an hour.

He gave little thought to the fact that more than 90 percent of dental assistants and hygienists are women. But then, young men like Mr. Alquicira have come of age in a world of inverted expectations, where women far outpace men in earning degrees and tend to hold jobs that have turned out to be, by and large, more stable, more difficult to outsource, and more likely to grow.

“The way I look at it,” Mr. Alquicira explained, without a hint of awareness that he was turning the tables on a time-honored feminist creed, “is that anything, basically, that a woman can do, a guy can do.”

After years of economic pain, Americans remain an optimistic lot, though they define the American dream not in terms of mansions and luxury cars but as something more basic — a home, a college degree, financial security and enough left over for a few extras like dining out, according to a study by the Pew Center on the States’ Economic Mobility Project. That financial security usually requires a steady full-time job with benefits, something that has become harder to find, particularly for men and for those without a college degree. While women continue to make inroads into prestigious, high-wage professions dominated by men, more men are reaching for the dream in female-dominated occupations that their fathers might never have considered.

The trend began well before the crash, and appears to be driven by a variety of factors, including financial concerns, quality-of-life issues and a gradual erosion of gender stereotypes. An analysis of census data by The New York Times shows that from 2000 to 2010, occupations that are more than 70 percent female accounted for almost a third of all job growth for men, double the share of the previous decade.

That does not mean that men are displacing women — those same occupations accounted for almost two-thirds of women’s job growth. But in Texas, for example, the number of men who are registered nurses nearly doubled in that time period, rising from just over 9 percent of nurses to almost 12 percent. Men make up 23 percent of Texas public schoolteachers, but almost 28 percent of first-year teachers.

The shift includes low-wage jobs as well. Nationally, two-thirds more men were bank tellers, almost twice as many were receptionists and two-thirds more were waiting tables in 2010 than a decade earlier.

Even more striking is the type of men who are making the shift. From 1970 to 1990, according to a study by Mary Gatta, the senior scholar at Wider Opportunities for Women, and Patricia A. Roos, a sociologist at Rutgers, men who took so-called pink-collar jobs tended to be foreign-born non-English speakers with low education levels — men who, in other words, had few choices.

Now, though, the trend has spread among men of nearly all races and ages, more than a third of whom have a college degree. In fact, the shift is most pronounced among young, white, college-educated men like Charles Reed, a sixth-grade math teacher at Patrick Henry Middle School in Houston.

Mr. Reed, 25, intended to go to law school after a two-year stint with Teach for America, but he fell in love with the job. Though he says the recession had little to do with his career choice, he believes the tough times that have limited the prospects for new law school graduates have also helped make his father, a lawyer, more accepting.

Still, Mr. Reed said of his father, “In his mind, I’m just biding time until I decide to jump into a better profession.”

To the extent that the shift to “women’s work” has been accelerated by recession, the change may reverse when the economy recovers. “Are boys today saying, ‘I want to grow up and be a nurse?’ ” asked Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress. “Or are they saying, ‘I want a job that’s stable and recession proof?’ ”

In interviews, however, about two dozen men played down the economic considerations, saying that the stigma associated with choosing such jobs had faded, and that the jobs were appealing not just because they offered stable employment, but because they were more satisfying.

“I.T. is just killing viruses and clearing paper jams all day,” said Scott Kearney, 43, who tried information technology and other fields before becoming a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston.

Daniel Wilden, a 26-year-old Army veteran and nursing student at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said he had gained respect for nursing when he saw a female medic use a Leatherman tool to save the life of his comrade. “She was a beast,” he said admiringly.

More than a few men said their new jobs had turned out to be far harder than they imagined.

But these men can expect success. Men earn more than women even in female-dominated jobs. And white men in particular who enter those fields easily move up to supervisory positions, a phenomenon known as the glass escalator — as opposed to the glass ceiling that women encounter in male-dominated professions, said Adia Harvey Wingfield, a sociologist at Georgia State University. More men in an occupation can also raise wages for everyone, though as yet men’s share of these jobs has not grown enough to have an overall effect on pay.

“Simply because higher-educated men are entering these jobs does not mean that it will result in equality in our workplaces,” said Ms. Gatta of Wider Opportunities for Women.

Still, economists have long tried to figure out how to encourage more integration in the work force. Now, it seems to be happening of its own accord.

“I hated my job every single day of my life,” said John Cook, 55, who got a modest inheritance that allowed him to leave the company where he earned $150,000 a year as a database consultant and enter nursing school.

His starting salary will be about a third what he once earned, but database consulting does not typically earn hugs like the one Mr. Cook recently received from a girl after he took care of her premature baby sister. “It’s like, people get paid for doing this kind of stuff?” Mr. Cook said, choking up as he recounted the episode.

Several men cited the same reasons for seeking out pink-collar work that have drawn women to such careers: less stress and more time at home. At John G. Osborne Elementary, Adrian Ortiz, 42, joked that he was one of the few Mexicans who made more in his native country, where he was a hard-working lawyer, than he did in the United States as a kindergarten teacher in a bilingual classroom. “Now,” he said, “my priorities are family, 100 percent.”

Betsey Stevenson, a labor economist at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said she was not surprised that changing gender roles at home, where studies show men are shouldering more of the domestic burden and spending more time parenting, are now showing up in career choices.

“We tend to study these patterns of what’s going on in the family and what’s going on in the workplace as separate, but they’re very much intertwined,” she said. “So as attitudes in the family change, attitudes toward the workplace have changed.”

In a classroom at Houston Community College, Dexter Rodriguez, 35, said his job in tech support had not been threatened by the tough economy. Nonetheless, he said, his family downsized the house, traded the new cars for used ones and began to live off savings, all so Mr. Rodriguez could train for a career he regarded as more exciting.

“I put myself into the recession,” he said, “because I wanted to go to nursing school.”

    More Men Enter Fields Dominated by Women, NYT, 20.5.2012,






Women in Texas Losing Options

for Health Care in Abortion Fight


March 7, 2012
The New York Times


Leticia Parra, a mother of five scraping by on income from her husband’s sporadic construction jobs, relied on the Planned Parenthood clinic in San Carlos, an impoverished town in South Texas, for breast cancer screenings, free birth control pills and pap smears for cervical cancer.

But the clinic closed in October, along with more than a dozen others in the state, after financing for women’s health was slashed by two-thirds by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The cuts, which left many low-income women with inconvenient or costly options, grew out of the effort to eliminate state support for Planned Parenthood. Although the cuts also forced clinics that were not affiliated with the agency to close — and none of them, even the ones run by Planned Parenthood, performed abortions — supporters of the cutbacks said they were motivated by the fight against abortion.

Now, the same sentiment is likely to lead to a shutdown next week of another significant source of reproductive health care: the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, which serves 130,000 women with grants to many clinics, including those run by Planned Parenthood. Gov. Rick Perry and Republican lawmakers have said they would forgo the $35 million in federal money that finances the women’s health program in order to keep Planned Parenthood from getting any of it.

Although Texas already bars clinics that take such money from performing abortions, the new law is intended to prevent any state money from benefiting Planned Parenthood. “Planned Parenthoods across the country provide abortions, are affiliated with abortion providers, or refer women to abortion providers,” said Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Mr. Perry.

Wayne Christian, a Republican state representative said, “I don’t think anybody is against providing health care for women. What we’re opposed to are abortions.” He added, “Planned Parenthood is the main organization that does abortions. So we kind of blend being anti-abortion with being anti-Planned Parenthood.”

The situation in Texas is mirrored in several other states that have tried to eliminate various methods of financing Planned Parenthood.

Abortion also undergirds the Republican presidential candidates’ opposition to federal financing for Planned Parenthood, a private nonprofit group that offers a variety of reproductive health services and is the nation’s largest provider of abortions. And critics of contraception coverage under the new federal health care law say that some birth control methods are essentially abortion drugs, an assertion scientists largely dispute.

As the case in Texas illustrates, such battles are affecting broader women’s health services. Some women have lost the only nearby clinic providing routine care.

Nationally, the newest target is Title X, the main federal family planning program. All four Republican presidential candidates support eliminating Title X, which was created in 1970 with Republican support from President Nixon and the elder George Bush, then a congressman.

Like other federal financing, Title X does not pay for abortions. Only some of it covers birth control. Title X also provides money for cervical and breast cancer screening, testing for H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases, adolescent abstinence counseling, infertility counseling and other services.

Planned Parenthood receives about a quarter of Title X’s $300 million budget and sees about a third of Title X patients. The remaining money goes to clinics, community health centers, hospitals and state agencies.

Mitt Romney’s fiscal plan proposes eliminating Title X because it “subsidizes family planning programs that benefit abortion groups like Planned Parenthood.”

Rick Santorum, in a recent debate, acknowledged, to boos, that in Congress he voted for appropriations bills that included Title X money. He pledged to rectify that if elected, saying, “I’ve always opposed Title X funding.”

President Obama supports Title X, which serves five million low-income people.

“People think Planned Parenthood equals family planning the way Kleenex equals tissue, and it’s not true,” said Clare Coleman, president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of family planning providers. Title X supports many other providers, she said: “In a lot of states there is no state money for family planning. So Title X is the ballgame.”

A 2009 Congressional Research Service report cited federal estimates that Title X helps prevent nearly a million unintended pregnancies annually. Reproductive health experts say that saves money, that every dollar spent on family planning saves about $4 in maternity and infant care.

Some experts also say the financing helps prevent about 400,000 abortions annually. Opponents of Title X and government financing of family planning say these effects are exaggerated.

“Eliminating Title X would not outlaw contraception,” said a spokesman for Ron Paul. “People would simply have to pay for contraceptives with their own money or money donated by private sources.”

The battle intensified in February when the House of Representatives voted to eliminate Title X and eliminate federal financing for Planned Parenthood. The Senate defeated the bill, but the issue remains alive.

Several state legislatures recently voted to stop some Planned Parenthood financing: Title X money in Kansas and North Carolina, Medicaid in Indiana, other family planning and breast cancer screening funds in Wisconsin. In three of the states, judges blocked the laws, at least temporarily, ruling that Planned Parenthood had been illegally excluded even if it was not named. (Wisconsin’s cuts have not been challenged in court.)

New Hampshire canceled a state contract with Planned Parenthood last year, but the federal government awarded the organization a similar contract. Recently, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to essentially strip Planned Parenthood of family planning money by creating a tiered system in which Planned Parenthood and other women’s clinics could receive financing only in the unlikely possibility that the state could not give it to government-run clinics or to hospitals. The Senate has not voted on the bill.

Texas enacted a similar tiered system and also sliced its two-year family planning budget from $111 million to $38 million, cuts that the nonpartisan state Legislative Budget Board estimated would eliminate services for nearly 284,000 women, lead to 20,500 additional births and cost Medicaid about $230 million. The board had recommended expanding family planning as a way of saving money.

Now, the Medicaid-financed Women’s Health Program is in jeopardy. Texas signed regulations prohibiting clinics affiliated with groups that provide abortions from receiving funds, even though the clinics do not perform abortions themselves. The federal government says excluding qualified providers in this way is illegal, requiring it to withhold $35 million — about 90 percent of the program’s financing — if the regulations, which take effect on Wednesday, are not rescinded.

That would effectively end the program, increasing the number of women without services to about 400,000. Already, Planned Parenthood of Hidalgo County, which is on the Texas-Mexico border, has closed four of eight clinics, including the one in San Carlos, and trimmed services.

The closest clinic to San Carlos is 16 miles away in Edinburg. There, a receptionist informs callers not to expect appointments soon. Wait times have grown to up to four weeks.

Many San Carlos patients struggle to reach Edinburg from their homes in impoverished neighborhoods called colonias. Maria Romero, a housecleaner with four children, who had a lump in her breast discovered at the San Carlos clinic, has no way to get there.

Ms. Parra, 33, the mother of five, managed to borrow a car to get to Edinburg after a pap smear at the San Carlos clinic indicated she might have cervical cancer. Further tests showed she was cancer-free.

Both women worry about getting birth control pills; the clinic may now have to charge them up to $20 for a month’s supply.

“I will have to go without,” Ms. Parra said as she left an English class at a community center and was walking to pick up her two youngest children from a Head Start program. “If I get pregnant again, God forbid.”


Emily Ramshaw writes for The Texas Tribune,

which produces a twice-weekly local section

in the Texas editions of The New York Times.

    Women in Texas Losing Options for Health Care in Abortion Fight, NYT, 7.3.2012,







When States Abuse Women


March 3, 2012
The New York Times


HERE’S what a woman in Texas now faces if she seeks an abortion.

Under a new law that took effect three weeks ago with the strong backing of Gov. Rick Perry, she first must typically endure an ultrasound probe inserted into her vagina. Then she listens to the audio thumping of the fetal heartbeat and watches the fetus on an ultrasound screen.

She must listen to a doctor explain the body parts and internal organs of the fetus as they’re shown on the monitor. She signs a document saying that she understands all this, and it is placed in her medical files. Finally, she goes home and must wait 24 hours before returning to get the abortion.

“It’s state-sanctioned abuse,” said Dr. Curtis Boyd, a Texas physician who provides abortions. “It borders on a definition of rape. Many states describe rape as putting any object into an orifice against a person’s will. Well, that’s what this is. A woman is coerced to do this, just as I’m coerced.”

“The state of Texas is waging war on women and their families,” Dr. Boyd added. “The new law is demeaning and disrespectful to the women of Texas, and insulting to the doctors and nurses who care for them.”

That law is part of a war over women’s health being fought around the country — and in much of the country, women are losing. State by state, legislatures are creating new obstacles to abortions and are treating women in ways that are patronizing and humiliating.

Twenty states now require abortion providers to conduct ultrasounds first in some situations, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization. The new Texas law is the most extreme to take effect so far, but similar laws have been passed in North Carolina and Oklahoma and are on hold pending legal battles.

Alabama, Kentucky, Rhode Island and Mississippi are also considering Texas-style legislation bordering on state-sanctioned rape. And what else do you call it when states mandate invasive probes in women’s bodies?

“If you look up the term rape, that’s what it is: the penetration of the vagina without the woman’s consent,” said Linda Coleman, an Alabama state senator who is fighting the proposal in her state. “As a woman, I am livid and outraged.”

States put in place a record number of new restrictions on abortions last year, Guttmacher says. It counts 92 new curbs in 24 states.

“It was a debacle,” Elizabeth Nash, who manages state issues for Guttmacher, told me. “It’s been awful. Last year was unbelievable. We’ve never seen anything like it.”

Yes, there have been a few victories for women. The notorious Virginia proposal that would have required vaginal ultrasounds before an abortion was modified to require only abdominal ultrasounds.

Yet over all, the pattern has been retrograde: humiliating obstacles to abortions, cuts in family-planning programs, and limits on comprehensive sex education in schools.

If Texas legislators wanted to reduce abortions, the obvious approach would be to reduce unwanted pregnancies. The small proportion of women and girls who aren’t using contraceptives account for half of all abortions in America, according to Guttmacher. Yet Texas has some of the weakest sex-education programs in the nation, and last year it cut spending for family planning by 66 percent.

The new Texas law was passed last year but was held up because of a lawsuit by the Center for Reproductive Rights. In a scathing opinion, Judge Sam Sparks of Federal District Court described the law as “an attempt by the Texas legislature to discourage women from exercising their constitutional rights.” In the end, the courts upheld the law, and it took effect last month.

It requires abortion providers to give women a list of crisis pregnancy centers where, in theory, they can get unbiased counseling and in some cases ultrasounds. In fact, these centers are often set up to ensnare pregnant women and shame them or hound them if they are considering abortions.

“They are traps for women, set up by the state of Texas,” Dr. Boyd said.

The law then requires the physician to go over a politicized list of so-called dangers of abortion, like “the risks of infection and hemorrhage” and “the possibility of increased risk of breast cancer.” Then there is the mandated ultrasound, which in the first trimester normally means a vaginal ultrasound. Doctors sometimes seek vaginal ultrasounds before an abortion, with the patient’s consent, but it’s different when the state forces women to undergo the procedure.

The best formulation on this topic was Bill Clinton’s, that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” Achieving that isn’t easy, and there is no silver bullet to reduce unwanted pregnancies. But family planning and comprehensive sex education are a surer path than demeaning vulnerable women with state-sanctioned abuse and humiliation.

    When States Abuse Women, NYT, 3.3.2012,






Senate Rejects Step Targeting Coverage of Contraception


March 1, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday upheld President Obama’s birth control policy, voting to kill a Republican effort to let employers and health insurance companies deny coverage for contraceptives and other items they object to on religious or moral grounds.

The 51-to-48 vote illustrated a sharp divide between the parties and brought to the Congressional forefront the social issues that have roiled the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Over four days of debate, Democrats accused Republicans of infringing on women’s rights and focusing on issues long settled while Republicans accused Democrats of threatening religious freedom and violating the Constitution.

“The Senate will not allow women’s health care choices to be taken away from them,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington.

The politically charged fight heated up last month after the Obama administration unveiled its policy requiring health insurance plans to offer free contraceptives for women — a rule that provoked furious criticism from Roman Catholic institutions and some other religious groups. The administration quickly offered a revision that would force the health insurers — not the institutions — to bear the cost.

Still, Senate Republicans tried to seize on the uproar surrounding the administration rule and offered a Senate proposal that would allow a broad exemption for employers, framing it as a matter of conscience as much as contraception.

“The president is trampling on religious freedom,” said Senator Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska.

Democrats saw the issue tilting politically in their favor in recent days and forced the Senate vote even as some Republicans indicated unease about pressing the matter. One Republican, Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, joined 48 Democrats and two independents in opposing the plan, days after she announced she was retiring from the Senate. Three Democratic senators — Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska — voted for the proposal, along with 45 Republicans. Mr. Casey and Mr. Manchin are up for re-election this year. Mr. Nelson is retiring.

Despite the vote, Congress is not done with the contraception debate. Speaker John A. Boehner said Thursday that House Republicans also wanted to protect religious employers who object to the requirement for contraceptive coverage.

“It’s important for us to win this issue,” Mr. Boehner said. He did not offer any details about a legislative path forward, but hinted that it would differ from the one tried by Senate Republicans.

Illustrating the political power of the issue, Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, moved quickly on Wednesday to clarify a comment that he was against the Republican plan by Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri. Mr. Romney said that he had misunderstood the question and that he supported Mr. Blunt’s proposal. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. weighed in on the issue during a visit to Iowa State University on Thursday, saying that the administration plan was “screwed up in the first iteration” but that the compromise was the correct approach.

In the Senate, Democrats, defending the new health care law, said the Republican proposal went far beyond contraception and would allow employers to deny coverage for other items and services to which they objected.

Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, said Republicans were attacking women’s health care as part of “a systematic war against women.”

Mr. Blunt offered the proposal as an amendment to a highway bill. Under the proposal, health insurance plans and employers could refuse to provide or pay for coverage of “specific items or services” if the coverage would be “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer or other entity offering the plan.”

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, urged the Senate to reject the proposal. “The Obama administration believes that decisions about medical care should be made by a woman and her doctor, not a woman and her boss,” Ms. Sebelius said.

Republicans had hoped that the Senate debate would highlight what they say is the coercive nature of Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul, approved by Congress in 2010 without any Republican votes.

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said: “The president’s health care law empowers bureaucrats here in Washington to decide which tenets religious institutions can and cannot adhere to. If they don’t get in line, they’ll be penalized.”

Democrats argued that Republicans were trying to turn back the clock on women’s rights and pursuing an extreme right-wing social agenda that should scare voters in this election year.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said Republicans were “reviving the culture wars.”

“The Blunt amendment would allow any employer or insurer to deny coverage for virtually any treatment for virtually any reason,” Mr. Reid said.

Mr. Blunt, a former president of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., which objects to the administration policy, said: “This amendment does not mention any procedure of any kind. The word ‘contraception’ is not in there because it’s not about a specific procedure. It’s about a faith principle that the First Amendment guarantees.”

The 2010 health care law requires most insurers to cover preventive services without co-payments or deductibles. Under the administration policy, these services include all contraceptive drugs and devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration, as well as sterilization procedures.

Churches and other houses of worship would be exempt. In February, after protests from the Roman Catholic Church and others, Mr. Obama announced what he described as “an accommodation” for church-affiliated schools, universities, hospitals and charities. They would not have to provide or pay for contraceptive coverage, but their female employees could obtain such coverage directly from the employers’ insurance companies at no cost.

Republicans called this an accounting gimmick and said that religious employers would eventually bear the cost, in higher premiums.

Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, disagreed. “When insurers provide birth control, they save money,” she said. “It’s not only life-saving, it is cost-saving.”

Dr. Hal C. Lawrence III, executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, opposed the Blunt amendment and affirmed the value of contraception, saying it “improves and saves babies’ lives, improves maternal health and can be life-saving for women with serious medical problems.”

The lobbying arm of the American Cancer Society also opposed the Blunt amendment, saying it would allow employers to deny coverage of life-saving preventive services like mammograms and smoking cessation programs, based on “undefined religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

    Senate Rejects Step Targeting Coverage of Contraception, NYT, 1.3.2012,






Women’s Health Care at Risk


February 28, 2012
The New York Times

A wave of mergers between Roman Catholic and secular hospitals is threatening to deprive women in many areas of the country of ready access to important reproductive services. Catholic hospitals that merge or form partnerships with secular hospitals often try to impose religious restrictions against abortions, contraception and sterilization on the whole system.

This can put an unacceptable burden on women, especially low-income women and those who live in smaller communities where there are fewer health care options. State regulators should closely examine such mergers and use whatever powers they have to block those that diminish women’s access to medical care.

Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky, for example, recently turned down a bid by a Catholic health system to merge with a public hospital that is the chief provider of indigent care in Louisville. He cited concerns about loss of control of a public asset and restrictions on reproductive services.

The nation’s 600 Catholic hospitals are an important part of the health care system. They treat one-sixth of all hospital patients, and are sometimes the only hospital in a small community. They receive most of their operating income from public insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid and from private insurers, not from the Catholic Church. They are free to deliver care in accord with their religious principles, but states and communities have an obligation to make sure that reproductive care remains available. This should be a central goal for government officials who have a role in approving such consolidations.

As Reed Abelson wrote in a recent report in The Times, these mergers are driven by shifts in health care economics. Some secular hospitals are struggling to survive and eager to be rescued by financially stronger institutions, which in many cases may be Catholic-affiliated. By one estimate, 20 mergers between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals have been announced over the past three years and more can be expected.

The 2009 “Ethical and Religious Directives” issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops warns that Catholic institutions should avoid entering into partnerships “that would involve them in cooperation with the wrongdoing of other providers.” Catholic hospitals have refused to terminate pregnancies, provide contraceptive services, offer a standard treatment for ectopic pregnancies, or allow sterilization after caesarean sections (women seeking tubal ligations are then forced to have a second operation elsewhere, exposing them to additional risks).

In one case, the sole hospital in a rural area in southeastern Arizona announced in 2010 that it would partner with an out-of-state Catholic health system, and would immediately adhere to Catholic directives that forbid certain reproductive health services. As a result, a woman whose doctors wanted to terminate a pregnancy to save her life had to be sent 80 miles away for treatment. A coalition of residents, physicians and activists campaigned against the merger and it was called off before it was finalized.

Over the past 15 years, MergerWatch, an advocacy group based in New York City, has helped block or reverse 37 mergers and reached compromises in 22 others that saved at least some reproductive services. As mergers become more common, state and local leaders would be wise to block proposals that restrict health services.

    Women’s Health Care at Risk, NYT, 28.2.2012,






Virginia Lawmakers Backtrack on Conception Bill


February 23, 2012
The New York Times


Republican lawmakers in Virginia changed course on another piece of conservative legislation on Thursday, with the State Senate voting to suspend consideration of a bill that would define life as beginning at conception.

It was an abrupt reversal for Republicans, and came hours after a Senate committee voted to approve the legislation for consideration by the full body. There was broad speculation that Gov. Bob McDonnell was behind the move.

“This is a major disgrace for the Republican leadership,” said Don Blake, who runs the Virginia Christian Alliance, a conservative group that backed the bill. Republicans should have had the votes to pass the bill, he said, and the fact that they opted to suspend it raised suspicions of the governor’s involvement.

“Pro-life groups are concerned that the governor had a hand in this,” Mr. Blake said. A spokesman for Mr. McDonnell, a Republican who is mentioned as a possible candidate for vice president, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The rapid-fire procedural maneuvering came one day after Mr. McDonnell ordered Republicans in the House of Delegates to soften a bill requiring a vaginal ultrasound before an abortion. The new version, which requires a noninvasive abdominal ultrasound, appeared aimed at defusing a mounting controversy over the bill that included spoofs on television shows.

The stalling of the legislation on Thursday also illustrated the divisions among Republicans over the bill. Opponents say it would confer legal status from the moment of conception and, in the process, cause huge legal uncertainties and lead to the banning of abortion. It would quickly be challenged in court, they say.

The eight members of the party on the Education and Health Committee approved the bill on a party-line vote in the morning, only to have it sent back several hours later with orders that it not be considered again this legislative season, scheduled to end in two weeks.

The measure, known as the personhood bill, could be revived in the next session, which opens early next year — timing that critics of the bill point out falls safely outside the electoral cycle.

“This takes it off the late-night shows,” said one Democratic aide who asked not to be identified by name because she was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Delegate Bob Marshall, the bill’s sponsor, said he had approached the governor about the bill once at a reception, but did not get a positive response. Still, he had fresh hopes for it, after it passed the committee Thursday. “This could not have happened without the consent of the leadership,” he said.

State Senator Richard L. Saslaw, a Democrat who made the motion to shelve the legislation, said that he did not know whether Mr. McDonnell had intervened, but that the bill was far enough to the right that the governor would probably not have relished the prospect of signing it.

“I’m shocked that it got out of the House,” he said. “The people of Mississippi had the good sense to vote that thing down. What does that say?”

    Virginia Lawmakers Backtrack on Conception Bill, NYT, 23.2.2012,






Governor of Virginia Shifts Position on Abortion Bill


February 22, 2012
The New York Times


Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia backed down on Wednesday on a bill requiring women to have a vaginal ultrasound before undergoing an abortion. It was a sudden change of position for a conservative governor who is viewed as having political ambitions on the national stage.

The bill had drawn intense national attention in recent days, with a large protest by women’s health groups over the weekend and spoofs on left-leaning television shows.

In a political year that was suppposed to be all about the economy, this was the second instance in a month in which a public outcry organized in part by women’s health advocates through social media caused a reversal on the issue of abortion.

The governor’s decision not to support the bill capped several days of brinkmanship in which opponents of the measure lobbied furiously against it, galvanizing opposition by drawing on the image of male lawmakers mandating a procedure that requires inserting a probe into the vagina. One Democrat was prompted to denounce it as a “rape” bill.

Opponents presented what they said were 33,000 signatures protesting the measure. At the same time, the mostly Republican supporters in the legislature kept putting off debate on the measure, raising suspicions that the governor might be balking.

Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. McDonnell, a rising star in the Republican Party who is often talked about as a candidate for vice president, told Republican delegates to make changes that softened the requirements in the legislation. Some political analysts speculated that the decision was made with an eye to a broader national audience that might not look favorably on the passage of such a conservative bill.

This month the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation yielded to pressure by affiliates and women’s rights advocates and reversed its decision to largely end decades of partnership with Planned Parenthood.

In Virginia, in a written statement issued minutes before the House of Delegates was to debate the bill on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. McDonnell said that after discussion with doctors, lawyers and legislators, he had concluded that amendments were needed. He called for changes stipulating that the ultrasound be abdominal rather than vaginal. A doctor would be required to offer the next level of ultrasound, most often vaginal, but a woman would be free to reject it.

“Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state,” the governor said in the statement.

The Family Foundation, a strong backer of the ultrasound bill, made reference to the Komen decision in a note to supporters blasting Mr. McDonnell’s reversal, saying that it was “extremely disappointed in this outcome,” particularly, it said, “given the strong pro-life credentials of this governor.”

The change — which passed the House in a vote of 65 to 32 — softens the bill considerably, but did not abolish the requirement that women have an ultrasound. If it is signed into law, Virginia would become the 10th state to require such procedures, though the requirement has been stayed by court rulings in two states, Oklahoma and North Carolina.

Specifically, the bill’s new wording would require a doctor to offer the woman a different type of ultrasound if the fetus is not viewable through an abdominal screening, but not require her to have one.

That opponents of the bill were successful in getting the language softened was a major success for them, particularly considering that vaginal ultrasounds are often administered before abortions anyway. A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood said the group routinely includes ultrasounds “as part of the thorough medical practice of abortion care,” and gives the woman the option of viewing the image. But the group said a legal requirement that women undergo such a screening was politically motivated and “is the very definition of government intrusion.”

Supporters of the bill hoped such a requirement would lead some women to change their minds about having abortions, as vaginal ultrasounds usually show detailed images. Many women’s advocates called the bill an effort to shame women and said it intruded on their privacy.

Republicans, for their part, said the bill had been blown out of perspective by Democrats and liberal groups. State Senator Richard Black said that he participated in a call-in event on Wednesday morning with hundreds of constituents and that just one mentioned the ultrasound bill.

Abortion legislation was a “tiny part” of the larger body of hundreds of bills in play in the legislature, State Senator Steve Martin said. “It’s simply not a primary focus,” he said. “It only appears to be because people call me from New York newspapers acting as if it’s some big deal.”

Democrats savored their victory, giving a news conference after the House debate, but said they were hoping the bill would still be killed.

“This is definitely a retreat for the governor,” said State Senator Janet Howell, a Democrat from Northern Virginia. “The national spotlight and ridicule has had an impact. The Republicans are scrambling for an out.”

But there was some concern among Democrats over a companion bill in the State Senate that has language identical to that in the old version. It is unlikely Senate Republicans would openly defy the governor and pass that bill, but Democrats said they were watching closely.

Besides, they said, the watered-down bill is still objectionable. “It’s still putting up a barrier to a woman trying to exercise her constitutional right,” said Delegate Charniele Herring, a Democrat.

In yet another twist, the Republican sponsor of the Senate bill, Jill Vogel, said she would withdraw the legislation altogether, though it was not clear whether the rules would allow her to do so after its passage.

Delegate Bob Marshall, a Republican who had supported the bill, said the companion measure, which is due to be voted on as early as Thursday in a Senate committee, might not clear that hurdle, raising the specter of complete collapse of the ultrasound bill and giving Mr. McDonnell a way out of having to sign it.

“This is a high-stakes game,” Mr. Marshall said. “Everything is on a razor’s edge.”

Most political analysts agreed that Mr. McDonnell was seeking to defuse an embarrassing and unmanageable situation — especially at a moment when he seems to be shifting his gaze to a national, and more centrist, audience. .

“Pragmatism trumped ideology today,” said Daniel Palazzolo, a professor or political science at the University of Richmond.


Erik Eckholm and Jennifer Preston contributed reporting.

    Governor of Virginia Shifts Position on Abortion Bill, NYT, 22.2.2012,






The ‘Safe, Legal, Rare’ Illusion


February 18, 2012
The New York Times


AMID the sound and fury of the latest culture-war battles — first over breast cancer dollars and Planned Parenthood, and then over the White House’s attempt to require that religious employers cover contraception and potential abortifacients — it’s easy to forget that there is at least some common ground in American politics on sex, pregnancy, marriage and abortion.

Even the most pro-choice politicians, for instance, usually emphasize that they want to reduce the need for abortion, and make the practice rare as well as safe and legal. Even the fiercest conservative critics of the White House’s contraception mandate — yes, Rick Santorum included — agree that artificial birth control should be legal and available. And both Democrats and Republicans generally agree that the country would be better off with fewer pregnant teenagers, fewer unwanted children, fewer absent fathers, fewer out-of-wedlock births.

Where cultural liberals and social conservatives differ is on the means that will achieve these ends. The liberal vision tends to emphasize access to contraception as the surest path to stable families, wanted children and low abortion rates. The more direct control that women have over when and whether sex makes babies, liberals argue, the less likely they’ll be to get pregnant at the wrong time and with the wrong partner — and the less likely they’ll be to even consider having an abortion. (Slate’s Will Saletan has memorably termed this “the pro-life case for Planned Parenthood.”)

The conservative narrative, by contrast, argues that it’s more important to promote chastity, monogamy and fidelity than to worry about whether there’s a prophylactic in every bedroom drawer or bathroom cabinet. To the extent that contraceptive use has a significant role in the conservative vision (and obviously there’s some Catholic-Protestant disagreement), it’s in the context of already stable, already committed relationships. Monogamy, not chemicals or latex, is the main line of defense against unwanted pregnancies.

The problem with the conservative story is that it doesn’t map particularly well onto contemporary mores and life patterns. A successful chastity-centric culture seems to depend on a level of social cohesion, religious intensity and shared values that exists only in small pockets of the country. Mormon Utah, for instance, largely lives up to the conservative ideal, with some of America’s lowest rates of teenage pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births and abortions. But many other socially conservative regions (particularly in the South) feature higher rates of unwed and teenage parenthood than in the country as a whole.

Liberals love to cite these numbers as proof that social conservatism is a flop. But the liberal narrative has glaring problems as well. To begin with, a lack of contraceptive access simply doesn’t seem to be a significant factor in unplanned pregnancy in the United States. When the Alan Guttmacher Institute surveyed more than 10,000 women who had procured abortions in 2000 and 2001, it found that only 12 percent cited problems obtaining birth control as a reason for their pregnancies. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of teenage mothers found similar results: Only 13 percent of the teens reported having had trouble getting contraception.

At the same time, if liberal social policies really led inexorably to fewer unplanned pregnancies and thus fewer abortions, you would expect “blue” regions of the country to have lower teen pregnancy rates and fewer abortions per capita than demographically similar “red” regions.

But that isn’t what the data show. Instead, abortion rates are frequently higher in more liberal states, where access is often largely unrestricted, than in more conservative states, which are more likely to have parental consent laws, waiting periods, and so on. “Safe, legal and rare” is a nice slogan, but liberal policies don’t always seem to deliver the “rare” part.

What’s more, another Guttmacher Institute study suggests that liberal states don’t necessarily do better than conservative ones at preventing teenagers from getting pregnant in the first place. Instead, the lower teenage birth rates in many blue states are mostly just a consequence of (again) their higher abortion rates. Liberal California, for instance, has a higher teen pregnancy rate than socially conservative Alabama; the Californian teenage birth rate is only lower because the Californian abortion rate is more than twice as high.

These are realities liberals should keep in mind when tempted to rail against conservatives for rejecting the intuitive-seeming promise of “more condoms, fewer abortions.” What’s intuitive isn’t always true, and if social conservatives haven’t figured out how to make all good things go together in post-sexual-revolution America, neither have social liberals.

At the very least, American conservatives are hardly crazy to reject a model for sex, marriage and family that seems to depend heavily on higher-than-average abortion rates. They’ve seen that future in places like liberal, cosmopolitan New York, where two in five pregnancies end in abortion. And it isn’t a pretty sight.

    The ‘Safe, Legal, Rare’ Illusion, NYT, 18.2.2012,






Frederica Sagor Maas, Silent-Era Scriptwriter, Dies at 111


January 14, 2012
The New York Times


She told of Hollywood moguls chasing naked would-be starlets, the women shrieking with laughter. She recounted how Joan Crawford, new to the movies, relied on her to pick clothes. Almost obsessively, she complained about how many of her story ideas and scripts were stolen and credited to others.

Frederica Sagor Maas told all — and maybe more — in interviews and in her memoirs, which she published in 1999 at the age of 99. Before dying on Jan. 5 in La Mesa, Calif., at 111, Mrs. Maas was one of the last living links to cinema’s silent era. She wrote dozens of stories, adaptations and scripts, sat with Greta Garbo at the famed long table in MGM’s commissary, and adapted to sound in the movies, and then to color.

Perhaps most satisfying, Mrs. Maas outlived pretty much anybody who might have disagreed with her version of things. “I can get my payback now,” she said in an interview with Salon in 1999. “I’m alive and thriving and, well, you S.O.B.’s are all below.”

(She was also the 44th-oldest person in the world, according to the Gerontology Research Group, which keeps records of such things and which announced her death.)

Mrs. Maas’s life was like the plot of an old-fashioned movie. She dropped out of college to scout Broadway for movie ideas. She moved to Hollywood, rejected encouragement to be an actress and wrote for the Universal, MGM, Paramount and Fox studios. After the industry had no further use for her work, she almost committed suicide.

Much later, after giving up on Hollywood, Mrs. Maas said she would have preferred to be a “wash lady.”

Still, Hollywood gave her stories to tell: about meeting Crawford, whom she called “a gum-chewing dame,” and helping her find the sort of tailored clothes she herself favored; about seeing Clara Bow dancing naked on a table at a Jazz Age blowout. Sex, she wrote, became as “humdrum as washing your face or cleansing your teeth.”

Frederica Sagor, one of four daughters, was born on July 6, 1900, in a cold-water railroad flat at 101st Street near Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Her parents, Jewish immigrants from Russia, shortened their name from Zagosky. Frederica gave up plans to be a doctor and studied journalism at Columbia. She worked a summer as a copy girl for The New York Globe.

She joined the movie industry, and left school, after answering a want ad for an assistant to the story editor at Universal Pictures in New York. Getting the job, she learned about movies by seeing ones she liked three or four times, studying them frame by frame.

“I was fierce in my passion for this new medium,” she wrote in her memoir, “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim: A Writer in Early Hollywood.”

In 1924, Frederica Sagor moved to Hollywood to write for Preferred Pictures. She helped adapt “The Plastic Age,” a popular novel about collegiate life, for a 1925 movie that was a hit for Clara Bow. (Five years older than Bow, she outlived her by more than 46.) After that success, she signed with MGM, where, she said, others took credit for her work. In a studio system with armies of writers, she added, that was not unusual.

“Unless you wanted to quit the business, you just kept your mouth shut,” she wrote.

She moved on to Tiffany Productions, where she got credit for the flapper comedies “That Model From Paris” (1926) and “The First Night” (1927).

She married a screenwriter, Ernest Maas, in 1927, and went on to write scripts both with him and by herself. For her story for “Rolled Stockings” (1927), starring Louise Brooks, she was credited not only on the screen but on the poster as well, a rarity then.

The couple’s lives began a downward spiral when they lost $10,000 in the 1929 stock market crash. They survived by writing movie reviews and turned out screenplays, but all but one were rejected. The exception was a joint effort, “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim,” a 1947 release from which Mrs. Maas took the title for her memoir. The film was about a young stenographer who becomes the first woman ever hired by a Boston shipping office, but even that was twisted by the Hollywood homogenizers. Written as a study of a woman’s empowerment, “Miss Pilgrim” was turned into a frothy musical starring Betty Grable.

Impoverished and disillusioned, the couple drove to an isolated hilltop at sunset in 1950 with the intention of asphyxiating themselves. But they could not go through with it, Mrs. Maas said. Suddenly clutching each other, they cried and turned off the ignition.

“We had each other and we were alive,” Mrs. Maas told the online magazine Salon.

The couple had no children, and Mrs. Maas left no immediate survivors. Mr. Maas died at 94 in 1986.

Neither of the two returned to the industry. To get a job as a typist in an insurance agency, Mrs. Maas lied about her age, saying she was 40 when she was actually 50. She advanced to adjuster.

As for movies, Mrs. Maas stopped going. “I think the product they’re making today,” she said in 1999, “is even worse than the product we made in the early days.”

    Frederica Sagor Maas, Silent-Era Scriptwriter, Dies at 111, NYT, 15.1.2012,





f operations for surgical education.

Those kinds of commissions helped make BioDigital successful as a small business. But its executives concluded that its growth potential would be limited if they remained focused on one-off projects for limited audiences. Last year, they decided to combine all of their commissioned medical illustrations into one virtual human.

“As a private company, as a service business, we can make a couple of million dollars annually,” Mr. Qualter said. But, as a product firm with a searchable map of the human body to market, he said, the company has greater potential to increase revenue and improve health education. “Once the BioDigital Human is really being used by a lot of people, we can leverage that.”

IT is too soon to tell whether studying a digital human model will help medical students understand anatomy more deeply than they can by dissecting cadavers alone. But the virtual body certainly offers some advantages.

In the N.Y.U. lab, Chana Rich, a 21-year-old first-year student from Fairfield, Conn., dissected an older, female cadaver. But the dead woman had undergone a number of surgeries during her lifetime, and her body was now missing its appendix, spleen and right lung.

“She’s skinny and female,” Ms. Rich said, “so sometimes it’s hard to visualize the smaller vessels.”

A few minutes later, Ms. Rich was in the projection room, isolating the liver of the virtual cadaver and examining the blood vessels connected to it.

“In a cadaver, if you remove an organ, you cannot add it back in as if it were never removed,” she said as she adjusted her 3-D glasses. “Plus, this is way more fun than a textbook.”

But her colleague, Susanna Jeurling, a first-year medical student from Washington, disagreed. Dissecting a real cadaver, she said, gives students a unique, tactile understanding of the body.

“I don’t think this will ever replace cadavers,” said Ms. Jeurling, 24. “There’s something about being able to hold it and turn it in your hand.”

Administrators at the medical school say they have no plans to phase out dissection, an educational method that dates back to the Ptolemaic era. The 3-D digital human body is merely a complementary teaching method, said Dr. Marc M. Triola, associate dean for educational informatics.

“It’s an amazing blend of one of the oldest medical education techniques and the absolute newest,” Dr. Triola said.

    The Virtual Anatomy, Ready for Dissection, NYT, 7.1.2012,




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