There’s good news out of Washington DC for pregnant women today. Well, it’s kind of good news. Senators Bob Casey and Jeanne Shaheen introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act into the Senate today. The bill protects pregnant women by making sure that employers offer reasonable accommodations for their condition, such as a stool to sit on, a water bottle to keep with you, and not having to lift heavy objects. It’s designed to make sure that pregnant women can safely work as long as they’d like to in their pregnancy. Yay, right? Not really. This is good news only if we accept the fact that women need federal legislation to be granted a stool to sit on while pregnant and working.
I’m always happy when Congress suggests helping working parents. I think that’s a pretty positive step in most circumstances. But this bill, which was introduced into the House of Representatives in May and has gone no where, just feels sad to me. It’s sad that we need such a law at all.
In our society, we supposedly revere motherhood as one of the most important jobs a woman can have. Remember all those lovely editorials stating this principle after a woman suggested that Ann Romney, stay-at-home mother of five, had “never worked a day in her life”? Everyone was rhapsodizing about motherhood and how much we respect it. And yet, that scandal happened right before the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced to the House. And then the bill went no where. It couldn’t get passed.
We all love and respect motherhood, yet we need legislation to guarantee that women can carry around water bottles at work. Women need protection so that they won’t have to lift heavy objects, a practice that we all know could put their health and their children’s health in jeopardy. Have businesses really gotten so cut-throat that they would either force pregnant women to risk their health or risk their job?
The sad answer to that question is, “Yes.” This is part of the reason that some women’s rights activists have pushed to have pregnancy labeled as a disability, so that companies will have to accommodate these workers. The New York Times had a powerful editorial at the beginning of the year titled, “Pregnant, and Pushed Out of a Job,” that talked about why legislation like this is necessary and how women were losing their jobs because companies didn’t have to accommodate their pregnancies.
People would be in an uproar if a company was knowingly producing and selling a product to pregnant women that could put their health in jeopardy. We would be organizing boycotts and flooding their social media with complaints. And yet if that same company is putting the health of its workers in jeopardy, apparently that’s not something we’re worried about. That’s something that Congress will have to step in and take care of.
The companies that would push out pregnant workers, the businesses that would refer stools or water breaks should be pariahs. We should sneer when we hear these companies. We should be ridiculing them and using our own consumer power to tell them that their behavior is completely unacceptable. Employees should be standing up for their peers and demanding better work conditions. Instead, we have to draft legislation so that pregnant women don’t put their children at risk just to pay their bills.
This bill is necessary, but it’s not a victory for women. It’s the failure of a society.