Supreme Court Decision in Young v. UPS Highlights Need for Change in Pennsylvania

By Marah Lange, MSW Candidate, University of Pennsylvania

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Last week, women across the country celebrated when the Supreme Court ruled in support of pregnant workers in the case Young v. UPS.

When Peggy Young was pregnant with her now 7-year-old daughter, her doctor recommended she not lift more than 20 pounds. What happened next takes place all too often: UPS, her employer at the time, refused to provide her temporary accommodations, as it typically did for other workers, including people with disabilities, people with on-the-job injuries, and even people who had lost their commercial drivers’ licenses as a result of DUI convictions.

Despite Peggy’s willingness to keep working with simple modifications to her job, she was forced to take unpaid leave and go without income during a time when she needed it most. So Peggy went to court.

Last week’s Supreme Court decision sent Peggy’s case back to the lower courts, which originally ruled in UPS’s favor. And more importantly, it signaled to all employers that if they are accommodating most other workers with injuries or disabilities while refusing to accommodate most pregnant workers who need it, they are likely violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

While this ruling is a significant victory, many pregnant workers may continue to face difficulty requesting and receiving temporary accommodations or successfully challenging employers that discriminate. For example, women in smaller workplaces, women who are new to their jobs, and workers with limited bargaining power may not know their employers’ accommodations policies or the accommodations their co-workers have received.

That’s why 13 states, including Peggy’s home state of Maryland, have passed legislation to strengthen protections for pregnant workers. Now it’s time for Pennsylvania legislators to step up to the plate. The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would strengthen protections for pregnant workers and help ensure that women aren’t put in the unnecessary and unsafe position of choosing between the health of their pregnancies and their jobs. This is especially critical for women working in low-wage jobs and for the 41 percent of families in which women are the primary breadwinners.

In order for women to have the freedom to make reproductive decisions for themselves and their families – like decision to have a child while working – temporary and reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers are a must.

Marah Lange is an MSW Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. She currently interns for the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project.

“Save Roe”

By Julie Zaebst, Project Manager, Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project

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It has been 42 years since the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, but somehow, on this cold, slushy Thursday, I found myself standing in the middle of Broad Street holding a sign that said “Save Roe.”

Some days, I wonder how we got to the point where it doesn’t seem far-fetched to say that Roe needs saving. Today, though, I was grateful to stand with a small crowd in Center City Philadelphia and remind passersby what safe, legal abortion means for women and their families. Of course, it’s about the ability to decide when and under what circumstances to take on the incredible responsibility of having a child. But it’s also about access to basic health care for women. It’s about financial stability. It’s about opportunities and dreams. It’s about respect and equality.

A lot of people on Broad Street today understood that. We got honks of support and thumbs-up. People rolled down their car windows to cheer and say thank you. The only counter-protestor who dared to join us kept her headphones in the whole time.

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(This rally was organized by Planned Parenthood Southeastern pennsylvania)

I wish I could have brought members of Congress out today to see that the American people get it – and that we’re paying attention. Late last night, the House of Representatives dropped plans to vote on a bill that would have banned abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, amid concerns about the “optics” of the issue. This sounds like a victory, but instead, the House approved a bill that targets abortion access for low-income women: HR 7 would ban federal insurance coverage of abortion, including in insurance policies sold on the state exchanges.

I’m afraid I’ll be back on Broad Street at this time next year, still holding my “Save Roe” sign. I hope you’ll be there to join me.

ACLU ACTION >> Protect Women’s Reproductive Decisions

Julie Julie Zaebst joined the ACLU-PA in July 2014, bringing more than 10 years of experience as a program manager and advocate.

Protect Pennsylvania’s Pregnant Workers

By Julie Zaebst, Project Manager, Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project
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Anyone who has been pregnant or accompanied a partner through pregnancy knows it’s not always easy, even under the best circumstances. When my partner was pregnant with our son last year, she was perfectly healthy and had what you would call an “easy pregnancy.” But still, her lifestyle changed (and mine along with it!). At work, my partner ate small snacks throughout the day, used the restroom more often, and stood up to stretch and walk around every now and then. That’s what she needed to do to stay healthy.

But imagine having to choose between a healthy pregnancy and your job – right at the moment when your income and your employer-sponsored health insurance (if you’re lucky enough to have it) are most important. Too many pregnant women, especially those in low-wage or physically demanding jobs, are put in that position because their employers refuse to accommodate pregnant women in the same way that they routinely accommodate other workers, including those who are injured on the job or are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). And unfortunately some courts have agreed that this is OK.

In many cases, pregnant women need simple job modifications to be able to continue to work – more frequent restroom breaks, a stool to sit on, or permission to carry a water bottle. In some cases, they may need to be put on light duty. But by definition, these are temporary accommodations. Studies show that accommodating pregnancy-related conditions is typically low-cost and low-effort. And there are big benefits for employers, including increased worker productivity and retention.

Recognizing these benefits for employees and employers, Pittsburgh City Council passed two common-sense measures designed to protect pregnant women in the workplace. One measure clarifies that discrimination based on sex includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition. This strengthens anti-discrimination protections for pregnant workers. The other measure requires many city contractors to provide reasonable accommodations to enable pregnant women to continue in their jobs, unless this would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

Unfortunately, Pittsburgh City Council doesn’t have the authority under state law to expand protections to pregnant women who work for private employers. Now, it’s up to the state legislature to step in and pass the Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would provide coverage to more women in Pittsburgh and protect women in other parts of the state as well. This must be a priority when the legislature reconvenes in the new year.

In 2014, it should not be news to anyone that women are in the workforce, and they are often the sole or primary breadwinners for their families. It’s time for the law to catch up with reality and protect pregnant workers from having to make an impossible choice. Pennsylvania women should not be forced to choose between their health and their livelihood anymore.

Julie Zaebst joined the ACLU-PA in July 2014, bringing more than 10 years of experience as a program manager and advocate.

Meet Julie Zaebst, Project Manager of The Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project

Julie Zaebst

Julie Zaebst

Julie Zaebst joined the ACLU-PA in July 2014, bringing more than 10 years of experience as a program manager and advocate. Most recently, she directed the Policy Center at the Coalition Against Hunger, where she led the organization’s advocacy initiatives to protect and enhance the federal nutrition programs in Pennsylvania, including food stamps and school meals. Before getting started, we asked Julie some questions about her previous experience and what she’s looking forward to in her new role as Project Manager of the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project.

What most interested you about this position?

I always imagined that I would devote my career to women’s health and reproductive rights. These were the issues that first politicized me as a student, and I spent much of my time and energy as a student and young professional working on these issues in a volunteer capacity. But a different opportunity came my way. Instead, I had a chance to serve as an advocate for low-income people who are struggling with hunger and for the federal nutrition programs, like food stamps, that help them put healthy food on the table. This has been an incredible experience, and I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be an effective advocate. I’m excited to have the opportunity to bring my skills and passion to the issue of reproductive rights at the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Where were you before joining the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project and the ACLU of Pennsylvania?

Over the past 10 years, I’ve worn many different hats at the Coalition Against Hunger – volunteer coordinator, advocacy coordinator and interim executive director. Most recently, I managed the Coalition’s policy center, where I directed initiatives to protect and enhance the federal nutrition programs in Pennsylvania, including food stamps, school meals, and the child care food program.

Prior to that, I served as the Associate Director of the Civic Engagement Office at Bryn Mawr College, which facilitates service-learning and volunteer opportunities for undergraduates. I learned an enormous amount from the students, faculty and community partners about what it means to be an engaged citizen and how to foster that type of engagement in our communities.

How do you think your previous experiences will help you in this new role?

In my roles at the Coalition Against Hunger and at Bryn Mawr College, I had the chance to hone a diverse set of skills that I’ll be tapping into as the Duvall Project Manager: public education, constituent mobilization, coalition-building, and legislative and administrative advocacy. I love putting these different strategies and skills to work to effect policy change, and I’m thrilled to have the chance to do so in the area of reproductive rights in Pennsylvania.

What are you most excited about taking over the project?

I’m excited to carry forward the incredible work that the Duvall Project has been doing to ensure incarcerated women’s access to reproductive health services. This initiative raises critical civil liberties issues that sit at the intersection of prisoners’ rights and reproductive rights, and I see ACLU-PA as uniquely positioned to address these issues that otherwise might go unnoticed. Carol has laid a terrific groundwork for this initiative, both in terms of research and relationship-building, and the Duvall Project has already achieved some great successes in reforming jails’ policies about reproductive health care.

What are some future projects you foresee the CBD Project taking on?

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the ways that stigma impacts the issues that I care about and the public policy work that I do. For instance, I’ve worked closely with Witnesses to Hunger, a program at Drexel University that provides a space for mothers to share their personal experiences with hunger through photos and story-telling and that brings their perspectives to bear in policy debates about the nutrition programs. I’ve been humbled by these women’s willingness to share their experiences and impressed with the ways in which their personal stories can humanize and ground technical, often polarized public policy debates and influence their outcomes.

I was excited to hear that the ACLU is having a similar conversation about stigma around reproductive rights. I see great opportunity to address issues of stigma and center the voices and experiences of women and men who have had to grapple with difficult reproductive health decisions. By engaging in public education and organizing with the goal of addressing this stigma, I think we can begin to bring about the cultural shift necessary to ultimately affect public policy.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles to reproductive freedom?

It sometimes seems that the story of reproductive rights is one of death by a thousand cuts. The specific restrictions placed on women’s reproductive rights are often complex or obscure in nature, and considered in isolation they may seem insignificant to much of the general public. Yet together, this patchwork of laws and regulations makes access to safe and affordable abortions – and sometimes other critical reproductive health services – increasingly difficult for women across Pennsylvania, especially low-income women. One of the ongoing challenges for the reproductive rights movement will be to continue to educate supporters about the impact of these restrictions and to galvanize strong opposition to each and every effort to limit women’s reproductive freedoms. This is especially critical as more and more supporters – like myself – belong to the post-Roe generation and don’t have a personal, first-hand understanding of what it would mean to entirely lose the freedoms granted by that court decision.

Abortion: Breaking the Silence

By Lisa Wildman, Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project Intern

Clara Bell Duvall

Clara Bell Duvall

Why are we re-fighting abortion forty years after Roe v. Wade? State legislators across the country are putting forth regulations that target abortion at an increasing rate. Alarmingly, many of these have become law. Why have these laws succeeded in eroding abortion rights?

A big part of the answer lies in the stigma surrounding abortion, which has helped keep abortion hidden. The movement working against abortion has shamed and intimidated people who seek abortions and those who provide abortion care. Look and listen to the condemning, demonizing language they use outside of clinics. When I volunteered as a clinic escort, why did protesters call me a whore? And who can forget Rush Limbaugh’s vicious slander of Sandra Fluke just for seeking birth control? American society is uncomfortable with abortion in part because it is uncomfortable with female sexuality. The war over abortion is a war over who controls women’s bodies. If we use our reproductive rights, we frighten those who would control our bodies for us.

A woman considering abortion care likely feels very alone and frightened. I know I did. Many Americans may think that they do not know anyone who has chosen to have an abortion. But one woman in three has an abortion by age 45. We all know someone who has had had an abortion. She is our coworker, our friend, our neighbor, our sister, our mother. In fact, most women who choose abortion are already mothers.

Silence perpetuates the stigma surrounding abortion. We can help remove the stigma surrounding abortion by breaking the silence. Empower yourself by beginning to talk about abortion. If a family member of yours died from an abortion in pre-Roe days, tell that story. (Mitt Romney did.) If you are pro-choice, say so. If you had an abortion, say so. Tell anyone who will listen.

Studies have found that how we talk about abortion does make a difference. Talk about how abortion is a personal and private decision. Talk about how abortion is a right under the U.S. Constitution, not something that should vary state by state. Talk about how politicians should not be allowed to interfere in what is a decision a woman makes with her own doctor and her own family.

But most importantly, keep on talking.

Learn more about the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project.

Lisa WildmanLisa Wildman interned at the ACLU-PA’s Duvall Project while completing a master’s degree in social work at Temple University.

Big Blow for Women’s Health in Texas

By Mike Garvey, Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project Intern

These days, it seems that victories for abortion access and rights are rare. The news frequently portrays stories about restriction, not expansion, of access. So, supporters of access received something of a win Monday, when a district court judge in Texas issued a permanent injunction on a particular provision – that doctors performing abortions must have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the site – of a restrictive new state abortion law. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by, among others, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and a number of women’s health centers in Texas. The judge in this case ruled that the provision had nothing to do with safety and more to do with placing an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion.

But Thursday, the Fifth Circuit of Appeals – following an emergency appeal by the state – overturned the ruling, allowing the law to go into effect while a legal case against it moves forward in court.This isn’t a small decision. It’s a disaster. Because the law was allowed to go into effect, according to the New York Times, as many as 13 of Texas’ 36 health centers that currently provide abortion services will be forced to stop providing them.What the appeals court’s decision won’t decrease, however, is the number of women who decide that abortion is the right course of action for them. These are women who might live in areas those 13 clinics would ordinarily serve. They’re women who, because of this restrictive law, will be forced to travel long distances and potentially plan multi-day trips to access abortion services. They’re women who might not be able to afford to travel. They’re women who, having no feasible option, might decide to undergo an unsafe abortion.The appeals court itself found that the regulation might increase the cost of accessing a provider while simultaneously decreasing the number of providers. But because those are incidental effects of a regulation that serves a “valid purpose,” the regulation was allowed to stand.

The assertion that this provision is about women’s health is laughable. Texas is a huge state. Did its government not grasp that the admitting provisions requirement would make it close to impossible for poor and rural women to access abortion?

We know the answer – the effect of decreased access isn’t incidental. This is a law signed by a governor whose stated goal is to wipe out abortion, period. It’s the intent of a state government that doesn’t trust women to make decisions about their own lives, and values its own misguided judgment more than the people who actually provide abortion care. No, it’s not incidental. It’s patently intentional and leading us back to a pre-Roe world.

Mike Garvey is an MSW candidate at the University of Pennsylvania.