By Lauren Khouri
Fellow, Education & Employment and Cross-Cutting Initiatives, NWLC
Intimate partner violence is all too common. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about one in four women in the United States experience violence in an intimate relationship at some point during their lives including as many as 324,000 pregnant women each year. Intimate partner violence itself increases the likelihood of unintended pregnancy, and pregnancy can be an especially dangerous time for women in abusive relationships, as abuse often escalates during the pregnancy. In fact, the leading cause of death among pregnant and post-partum women in the U.S. is homicide.
We cannot ignore these numbers. Financial security is crucial for all pregnant women, but it can be a matter of life and death for pregnant women facing domestic violence. Domestic violence affects women of all ages, races, religions, and sexual orientations. There is one common thread: women need a way out. Economic dependence keeps women trapped in violent relationships. To get to safety, women need a way to take care of themselves and their baby. They need to be able to keep their jobs and rely on their income.
That is where the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) comes in. Introduced in both houses of Congress, the PWFA would let pregnant women continue to do their jobs and support their families by requiring employers to make the same sorts of temporary accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions that they do for disabilities when women need them to continue safely working during pregnancy—like a reprieve from heavy lifting duties, permission to stay off ladders, or the ability to sit on a stool behind the cash register. It would prohibit employers from firing a pregnant woman or forcing her onto unpaid leave when a reasonable accommodation would allow the employee to continue working. This would ensure that pregnant women are treated as well in the workplace as workers with disabilities and would provide real solutions to pregnant workers currently being asked to choose between their health and their livelihood. And it would ensure that pregnancy, which places women at greater risk of intimate partner violence, isn’t the moment when women lose the financial ability to leave a violent relationship.
By asking employers to take those easy steps, the PWFA empowers women through economic security at a time where their health and safety is most important. It is time for Congress to pass the PWFA to keep women in the workplace—and support safe and healthy pregnancies—when moms need it most.
Lauren Khouri is a Fellow on the Education & Employment team, as well as the Cross-Cutting Initiatives team at the National Women’s Law Center. Before working at the Center, Lauren interned at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio and the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division, assisting on both civil and criminal litigation. She received a law degree from American University Washington College of Law and a Bachelors in Sociology and Criminal Justice from Saint Louis University. Lauren is originally from Cleveland, Ohio.
This post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2013 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ywcaWWV.