A University of Dayton law professor is making the case that pregnant women should be considered disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It sounds kind of insulting at first, but the designation could actually mean greater job security and better accommodations at work for pregnant women.
What kinds of accommodations? Well, employers would be required to let pregnant women in physically demanding jobs switch to light duty if necessary. They’d also have to let pregnant women do things like drink water on the job and take more restroom breaks—things that a lot of us with white-collar (or, uh, work-from-home) jobs probably take for granted, but not all pregnant women can.
“The goal there of course is to get pregnant women accommodations so they can continue working as they can hopefully up to the moment of birth,” said the professor, Jeannette Cox, who noted that lack such accommodations is particularly bad for women in male-dominated positions or low-income women in physically demanding jobs. Expanding the Americans with Disabilities Act to include pregnant women could help more women get the accommodations needed to keep working.
However …It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when our country has to legally define pregnancy as a disability in order to get pregnant women things like bathroom breaks and water privileges from employers. It also seems like the designation would complicate things—if the law was changed, could a pregnant woman potentially collect disability benefits for her whole pregnancy?
Of course, the seminal pregnancy discrimination statute, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978, already requires similar treatment of disabled and pregnant workers. And with expansions to the ADA passed in 2008, defining pregnancy as a temporary disability isn’t that much of a stretch (the amendments “really expanded the notion of what disability is to include short term things, things that are relatively minor,” Cox said). Under the amended ADA, a disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” But some of the ‘major activities’ included in this definition are things as minor as lifting or bending. And while a disability can’t apply to a ‘transitory impairment,’ the act defines transitory as 6 months or less.
But while defining pregnancy as a disability may technically make sense, there’s something strangely worrisome about pathologizing pregnancy this way. What do you think?
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UPDATE: Check out the poll results and follow-up comments from lawyer Jeannette Cox.