The day I told one of the deans at the school where I worked that I was pregnant, I broke down into tears. Even though this was a wanted and planned pregnancy, I was suddenly overwhelmed by what it would mean for my career and position. Would I be able to stay in my fellowship or would I have to take leave? In the end, it worked out—my due date was during the summer break when I didn’t have any formal responsibilities. And when I was put on bed rest towards the end of my pregnancy, I was able to finish up some projects from my hospital bed. Thanks to lucky timing, a flexible workplace, and understanding supervisors, I never had to go without a paycheck or health insurance.
Forcing Pregnant Workers Out
Many pregnant workers have not been so lucky. Too often, employers refuse even simple accommodations, such as allowing a cashier to sit on a stool or keep a glass of water at her station. This can force pregnant workers to choose between their health and the health of their pregnancies and being able to support their families. Some employers may fire a pregnant worker who needs a temporary accommodation or force her to take unpaid leave. This can leave her without a paycheck and health insurance at a time when she most needs them. For someone who is already struggling to make ends meet, the effects can be devastating.
That’s why we need the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act (PWFA), which is being introduced today. The bill, which is modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, will make clear that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to workers who experience limitations because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The PWFA is necessary to help ensure that women are able to decide whether and when to have children and to care for the children that they do have. But it’s only one small piece in the larger puzzle of what women and families need to support their economic security.
Women and Families Need Real Solutions
Before I became pregnant I had health insurance that covered contraception. This allowed me to decide whether and when I would have a child. Had I needed one, I could have obtained an abortion. Once I decided I was ready to have a child, I received pre-conception counseling and even genetic testing so that my husband and I would know our risk of passing on certain inherited diseases. After my daughter was born, my employer provided subsidized emergency childcare for when my regular child care fell through. This allowed me to still make it into work when my daughter was sick or I had to stay late. I could also take time off for the weekly and then monthly doctor’s visits that were required during the first year of my daughter’s life.
All of these benefits let me invest in my education and workplace experience so that I was better prepared economically and able to remain in the workforce when I did have a child. Not only was this important for my short term economic stability, but it also helped me continue to build my resume, which affected my long term career trajectory and pay.
If we want to support the economic security of women and families, we must ensure that everyone has access to basic health care services, including abortion, birth control, and pre-natal and maternity care. We must address barriers to opportunity that force women out of their jobs by enacting policies like the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act. And we must hold businesses accountable for creating fair and equitable workplaces. Everyone, no matter where they work or how much they make, should be able to make decisions about if, when, and how to have children and be able to raise the children they do have with dignity and self-determination. We can’t settle for anything less.