Hiding Pregnancies: Reproductive Freedom Is an Economic Issue

For anyone who claims that reproductive rights aren't an economic issue, try getting a job at 20 weeks' pregnant.

Marissa Mayer, center, at Tech Conference in San Fransisco. Photo: LA Times.

Birth control is expensive. Day care is expensive. Children are expensive. Yet somehow people continue to argue that reproductive rights aren’t an economic issue—like unemployment, household debt, or housing.

Obviously, they’ve never tried to get a job while pregnant.

The New York Times published a piece this weekend, “Why Women Hide Their Pregnancies,” as a lead-in to a discussion of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. In it, Alissa Quart reminds readers that while some women may be lucky enough to be able to write their own tickets—getting new jobs and promotions while visibly on the verge of impending motherhood—they’re the exception, not the rule.

The experience of regular women is sadly very far from that of celebrities. Among the complaints filed with the E.E.O.C. in September was one against J’s Seafood Restaurant in Panama City, Fla. Two servers had been fired the preceding October after, the lawsuit claims, the restaurant became aware of their pregnancies. Another suit alleges that Bayou City Wings, a chain restaurant in Houston, forced employees to leave after their first trimesters, telling them it was “irresponsible” to keep working after they had become pregnant.

So what separates your everyday waitress from [Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayers or actress Claire Daines]? Simply put, a server is easily replaceable in the eyes of management. In contrast, in the case of Yahoo, the company was struggling to find a savior, and there were few options. Ms. Mayer, pregnant or not, was deemed their best option. Ms. Danes, of course, carried the Emmy juggernaut for the show “Homeland” and has helped boost the visibility of the cable network Showtime. When reporting on a pregnant microelite, we should think twice before celebrating the idea that the glass ceiling has been shattered in a meaningful way.

It’s no surprise that workers in the lower levels of employment are completely replaceable. This is a given in the current work force, regardless of gender. The jobs in which a woman is likely to lose her position if she gets pregnant are also the ones least likely to have health-care plans that offer affordable contraception; a woman’s prescription for contraception will eat up a large portion of her budget.

Those who can least afford to get pregnant unintentionally are the ones who most need access to contraception. When being pregnant affects your ability to find work, how can you see reproductive health care as anything other than an economic issue?