Why Most Women Can’t Afford to Go on Bed Rest

August 19th, 2010

I recently commented on a blog post by a fellow mom blogger CourtroomMama. I really appreciated her blog post, commenting on and explaining the appellant victory of Samantha Burton and the ACLU which overturned a court  decision that had ordered Ms. Burton to go on prescribed bed rest for pregnancy complications.

In March of 2009  a Florida court ordered Samantha Burton to go on prescribed bed rest as her doctor recommended due to complications with her pregnancy. Burton, a single mother with two living children had refused to go on bed rest citing that she could not afford to be out of work, unpaid and not able to provide for her family for the estimated 15 remaining weeks of her pregnancy. The ruling implied the court didn’t care about her right to make her own health decisions or her current children, but sought to protect her unborn child. To add insult to injury, Burton was also ordered to submit to any and all “medically necessary” treatments including  cesarean section. Sadly, Burton delivered a stillborn baby several days into her bed rest.  In August of 2009, The ACLU filed an Amicus Brief, i.e. a court appeal, on Ms. Burton’s behalf. This August, 2010, Burton and the ACLU won their appeal. The ACLU cited that the previous ruling had misused the “Best Interest of the Child” standard, applying it to an unborn fetus when it is typically reserved for issues of juvenile court involving “living” children.

I really encourage every one reading this blog to take a look at CourtroomMama’s post. She has done a really nice job of making legal jargon understandable for us commoners and she raises some very interesting questions as “food for thought” that we all should be heartily considering when it comes to maternity leave.

What struck me most about this Florida ruling and other rulings and declarations that rule in favor of “protecting an unborn child” is how the mothers in all of these cases are essentially reduced to a gestational vessels-their lives, their interests and sometimes even their health is subjugated in favor of the unborn child. In the Florida case, Ms. Burton clearly stated that she could not afford to be out of work for 15 weeks as she would be unable to pay for and care for her two living children. That was not a persuasive enough argument. Nor was the fact that ordering her to submit to medical treatments against her will was a flagrant violation of her civil rights. The court and Ms. Burton’s OB implied via this case and its ruling,

“You are incapable of making decisions regarding the health and well being of you and your child, so we are taking your right to make your own medical decisions-and your right to make decisions regarding how you will care for yourself and your family-out of your hands.”

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated court case and nor an isolated situation in which a woman’s rights are trounced in favor of the rights of someone else.  The fuel of the abortion argument as well as the controversy surrounding the usage of emergency birth control, is whether or not a woman has the right to decide when she will carry a pregnancy and hence control her health and her body. I was completely outraged when Republican Senate Candidate Sharron Angel (R-NV) stated that women should never be allowed to have an abortion, even in the case of rape. Within the course of her interview with Alan Stock, Ms. Angle made her infamous statement that women should take these “lemon” situations and make “lemonade.”

Besides being one of the most insensitive and ignorant statements I have ever heard of, I’d like Ms. Angle and others opposed to abortion, morning after contraception, voluntary sterilization and other medical treatments available to women that allow them to control when they choose to become pregnant to consider the fact that while they are telling women to have the children that they did not intend to conceive, they offer no tangible ways for these women to support themselves through the pregnancy and birth process. While some men share the responsibility of unintended pregnancy with their partners, many more who get their partners pregnant simply walk away taking no responsibility for the well being of the woman or unborn child. So with this being the case, is it any wonder that women are making what many would deem “radical decisions” regarding their health and the health of their unborn children?

The United States  makes few provisions for women, especially single women, to provide for themselves and their unborn children. Instead we choose to point fingers and make the case that women should not even have sex outside of marriage. At the core of Samantha’s Burton’s case is the fact that United States is one of few if not the only Western nation that offers no paid maternity leave, no professional home attendance after a woman gives birth and little to no assistance with childcare. (For more on how poorly the US compares to other countries, take a look at the THE WORK, FAMILY, AND EQUITY INDEX-WHERE DOES THE UNITED STATES STAND GLOBALLY? report)

Whether a woman is single or in a stable relationship, our workforce rules and regulations are antiquated. Back in the early to mid 1900’s when many of our workforce rules were put in place, the majority of employees were men and those women who were working, typically did so only until they started their families, then they stayed home and raised their children. But clearly this is no longer the case.   According to the US Department of Labor,

  1. Of the 122 million women age 16 years and over in the U.S., 72 million, or 59.2 percent, were labor force participants—working or looking for work.
  2. Women comprised 46.8 percent of the total U.S. labor force and are projected to account for 46.9 percent of the labor force in 2018.
  3. Women are projected to account for 51.2 percent of the increase in total labor force growth between 2008 and 2018.

The rules governing the workplace are no longer applicable to today’s workforce. Ladies, why do we stand for them?

Women are capable of  making wise medical decisions. They are also capable of holding down full time jobs while taking care of themselves and their families. The laws governing personal rights and freedoms must be applied to women (as guaranteed by the constitution of the United States)-even if women make unpopular decisions or decisions that those in authority don’t understand. Women have the legal right to make those choices.

Likewise, Department of Labor and other workforce organizations need to re-evaluate the workforce, paying close attention to how the American  family has  evolved and our workforce rules need to reflect this evolution.  It is unacceptable for women to be forced to choose between their jobs and their families with the assumption that women can’t competently manage both. The assumption that women must be regulated by outside bodies (Pun intended!) is also unacceptable.  Given that women are fast becoming the majority in the workforce, isn’t it time that the laws reflect this majority?  Without re-evaluation and application of individual rights to women as well as re-evaluation of our workplace rules and standards,  we stand to see many more cases like Burton v. Florida.

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