With all of the extremist womb-controlling efforts we’ve seen in this country over the last election cycle, it seemed not a week went by without commentary suggesting that women were sluttish entities, wailing for free contraception and the right to drive through and kill the
blastocysts babies growing inside them so that they could go back to partying and flat backing all night long. (Naturally, the sexual proclivities and role of men in all of this was nowhere to be found when the Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock and other rape apologists and fetus worshippers were getting on their media soapboxes).
So I am eagerly awaiting reaction from the right wing to this distressing but unsurprising news — women are still being fired for getting pregnant — and this is occurring in the most vulnerable demographic, the working poor, low-wealth women earning paychecks predominantly in the service economy. (E.J. Graff at Salon):
I’ll be writing about this in the months to come, but for today, here’s one way having a family can cost you your job: women still get fired for being pregnant. Although it’s been illegal since the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, women are still refused a job or let go if they’re pregnant. You’d be shocked, EEOC and employment law folks tell me, at how often employers say so point-blank: Come back after you have the baby. The guys don’t want to look at a pregnant waitress. Housekeeping is hard work; your pregnancy is a potential liability. Our customers are uncomfortable with a pregnant driver.
All that’s illegal. It’s wonderful that we can talk about Sheryl Sandberg going home every day at 5:30 to be with her kids. And it’s wonderful that we can have the advanced conversation about women needing to stand up for themselves in their professional careers. But there’s a different set of issues for the bottom half of the workforce: basic, straightforward, illegal discrimination still hits them, over and over again. Women who are going to be rock-bottom poor, struggling to feed their children, if they lose their jobs for getting pregnant.
Where is Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council on this issue? He’s too busy making the media rounds to get face time as he worries about the Boy Scouts and its ban on gay scouts and leaders. What about John Boehner and other GOP leadership? What about calls to stop persecuting working women with this discrimination by the elected officials around the country that have been focused on passing state-sanctioned rape, er, mandatory transvaginal ultrasound bills? Crickets are chirping.
In any case Obama’s Evil Big Government (via EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum) is trying to do something.
In 2008, Congress amended the ADA to expand the definition of disability to include temporary disabilities. You can’t fire someone for having a back injury or a concussion; you have to find a way to help them along while they get better. So here’s the question: shouldn’t pregnancies that have temporary medical needs be protected as temporary disabilities?
That may sound obvious, but it will be much more obvious—and enforceable—if the EEOC issues a formal statement saying so. Feldblum thinks it is, and said she’ll be working to persuade the other three commissioners that it’s an urgent matter of equal pay, one of the EEOC’s formal priorities. “If we can make a dent in the number of pregnant women who end up having to leave their jobs when they don’t have to really,” she said, “it will ultimately help in pay equity.”
Here’s why it matters: women and their children are going to stay poor if women lose their jobs, and later have a harder time finding new ones, just because they need to snack while they’re pregnant. It keeps women and families poor. Women’s wages can’t possibly get to equal if they get lose their jobs for having children.
All well and good, but are the right wing talking heads and political leaders? You don’t see them spending any time discussing pay equity, or the connection between of pocketbook issues and family planning — if women need to work to support the children they already have. Staying on the job while pregnant should not be an issue in 2013, but as we’ve seen, the fixation on controlling women’s reproductive freedom has little to do with protecting the fetus; you can’t do it by failing to support the mother-to-be on this front.
It’s time to ask the family values crowd why they have a lot to say about the fetus, and little to say about the protecting the ability of the mother to earn a living to support that fetus — or the freedom to hold off getting pregnant in the first place.