Despite clear federal laws barring discrimination against pregnant workers, some corporations still unlawfully treat pregnant employees as if they are second-class citizens. In the latest case to make the news, Walmart refused to make a reasonable accommodation for pregnant employee Whitney Tomlinson in Atlanta after her doctor directed her to avoid heavy lifting for the duration of her pregnancy. Instead of accommodating the request by temporarily assigning her to a different department, Walmart’s human resources department told Tomlinson she needed to apply for unpaid leave from her job — leave she did not want and could not afford.
According to CNN, Walmart told Tomlinson she could not return to work until she was no longer pregnant, and applying for the unpaid leave was the only way to guarantee she would have a job when she came back. Per the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which has been federal law for about 40 years, pregnant women are protected from workplace discrimination like the discrimination Tomlinson experienced at Walmart. The law seeks to protect women from being unjustly coerced or pressured into considering abortion as the result of economic pressure placed on a pregnant woman by an employer.
In 2014, Students for Life of America joined other pro-life organizations in filing an amicus brief supporting the plaintiff in a similar case against UPS that reached the Supreme Court. In that case, Peggy Young of Maryland was placed on unpaid leave by UPS after asking for a heavy lifting accommodation due to her pregnancy. Young ultimately reached a settlement with UPS and in the process garnered national attention to the troubling reality of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.
While we recognize that it is wrong and unlawful to discriminate against pregnant women, we cannot pretend that such discrimination is surprising. Since abortion became widespread and commonplace in the 1970s, many have come to view preborn children as disposable and women as objects that exist for the pleasure and use by others and nothing more.
How can we then be surprised that pregnant women are treated as an inconvenience who can be plucked out of the workforce on a whim? The normalization of abortion comes hand-in-hand with the normalization of devaluing women in the workplace and devaluing their priceless role of carrying and raising new human life. From the beginning, the pro-life movement has adamantly insisted that pregnant women be reverenced and shown the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings.
The pro-life generation works toward a day when the dignity of mother and child are restored in practice and in law. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was a start, but we will not fully recognize the rights and dignity of pregnant workers in America until we cease to treat the preborn children they carry as meaningless accessories that can be thrown away at will.
To this end, Students for Life of America’s Pregnant on Campus Initiative educates pregnant and parenting students about their rights under the law and works with schools to ensure that accommodations and resources are available for pregnant and parenting students. No student should have to choose between her education and carrying and raising a child, just as no pregnant worker should have to choose between her child and her job.
It’s rather ironic that in the context of a popular culture that claims to be oriented to women’s empowerment and respect for women’s choices that when the choice is life for a preborn baby, things get complicated. Mothers should not have to go to court to be accommodated during that brief and important time called pregnancy.