“Or You Could Just Quit.” Why the Pregnant Worker Accommodations Bill is Important for New Mexico Women

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[UPDATE: On March 14, HB 179, the Pregnant Worker Accommodations bill PASSES in the Judiciary.]

It was a harrowing moment. Just before bringing the committee to a vote, as Elizabeth “Liz” Thomson raced through the halls to the committee room, having appeared only minutes before on the Roundhouse floor in support of one of her bills, Representative Gail Chasey (Dem. Bernalillo) asked observers (many of whom delivered compelling testimonies) for a show of hands — who was in favor of HB 179 The Pregnant Work Accommodation Bill that would expand protections for pregnant women in the workplace.

In a jam-packed room, those in favor of HB 179 raised their hands. They represented women who had struggled to keep their jobs during their pregnancies, doctors who counseled their patients on how to maintain their health during inflexible employment, ACLU lawyers, members of Respect New Mexico Women and mothers who had given birth to healthy children, no thanks to their workplaces that made them choose — one more trip to the restroom or a dock in pay.

And then there were two. The two men who voted “nay.”

Those two men represented the interests of insurance companies. That’s not to say that there were no women in favor of keeping things right where they are. There was one.

We know that there is a law on the books – The Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed in 1978 which protects women from being fired for becoming pregnant. And yet in New Mexico, a healthy pregnancy while maintaining employment is a challenge for many women.

While HB 179 passed by one vote in the house, 4 in favor (Democrats Armstrong, D, Liz Thomson, G. Chasey and J. Ferrary) and three 3 against (G. Armstrong, R. Dow and J. Townsend) it was a close one, much like last year when the same bill came before the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee and after a vote found itself in limbo, split down party lines.

Though the vote was a close one, in favor of New Mexico women, the outcome of similar bills in other states appears to be a nuisance for lawmakers. On Monday, in a vote of eight to three, EIGHT male lawmakers in South Dakota voted down a bill that would have required reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers so they can safely stay on the job. According to a blog post by Rewire, Rep. Wayne H. Steinhauer (R-Minnehaha) suggested that women could, “ . . . just quit.”

New Mexico Women don’t just quit. They fight. They testify. They VOTE. As HB 179 moves on to the Judiciary Committee, more testimonies will be heard, more mothers will step forward to tell their stories about the struggle to hold on to their jobs and their pregnancies. No doubt there will be more insurance salesmen in the committee room.

READ MORE about Women’s Health, here.

Two ways YOU can help

RSVP to attend HB179’s next big hearing: Friday Feb. 24, 1:30 pm

Sorry, I can’t go. I’ll send a thank you to legislators instead.