Dr. Susan Scott, left, discusses equality and women’s pay while guest speakers Paige Duhamel, center, and Pamelya Herndon, executive director of the Southwest Women’s Law Center, listen during a program on Monday at the Roswell Public Library. The program was sponsored by the Southwest Women’s Law Center of Albuquerque, where Scott serves on the board of directors and Duhamel serves as staff attorney. (Randal Seyler Photo)
Fair pay for women, pregnancy discrimination and the recent Supreme Court ruling on Hobby Lobby were topics of discussion on Monday at the Roswell Public Library.
The Southwest Women’s Law Center of Albuquerque sponsored a discussion on “Women’s Economic Fairness in the Workplace.”
Featured speakers included Pamelya Herndon, executive director of the Southwest Women’s Law Center; Paige Duhamel, staff attorney for SWLC; and Dr. Susan Scott, who is both a medical doctor and an attorney. She also serves on the SWLC board of directors.
“Ask your elected representatives if they support fair pay for women,” Herndon said. “It takes civic engagement to create change, and if people are running for office, ask them where they stand on these issues. Ask if they support equal pay, or pregnancy fairness.”
The Hobby Lobby ruling is a matter of fair pay because it impacts women, who are already earning less per hour in the workplace than their male counterparts, Dr. Scott said.
The Supreme Court ruled in June that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom.
The 5-to-4 ruling, which applied to two companies owned by Christian families, opened the door to many challenges from corporations over laws that they claim violate their religious liberty.
The Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case doesn’t currently affect the birth control methods that are most commonly used. But Planned Parenthood Federation of America spokeswoman Justine Sessions says the decision “opens the door for other corporations to be able to opt out of providing any form of birth control.”
The contested birth control methods include the Plan B “morning-after pill,” the Ella “morning-after pill” and hormonal and copper intrauterine devices (IUDs).
The companies in the case, including Hobby Lobby, and their supporters object to IUDs and morning-after pills, saying they cause abortions by blocking a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
Groups that lobby for reproductive rights contend the drugs and devices prevent fertilization from occurring, which can lead to unwanted pregnancies and surgical abortions.
Dr. Scott said that women in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Roswell, earn 77 cents to every dollar their male counterparts are earning. These same women are saddled with an undue hardship due to the Hobby Lobby ruling because they will now have to pay for their contraception out-of-pocket.
On another women’s pay issue, Duhamel said discrimination in the workplace often involves pregnant women, and the number of women who work while pregnant has also increased over the years, so workplace conflicts continue to increase.
“Between 2006 and 2008, nearly two-thirds of first-time mothers worked while pregnant,” Duhamel said. “Almost nine out of 10 first-time mothers who worked while pregnant, work into their last two months of pregnancy during this timeframe.”
Of those first-time mothers, 82 percent of them worked into their last month of pregnancy, Duhamel added.
“More women are working and more women are the breadwinners of their families, so having to take unpaid leave is a hardship on these women and their families,” she said. Single mother families are also typically lower income families, so loss of pay or a job can be devastating.
“In lower income families, we are seeing more and more relying on the woman’s income, and as many as 70 percent of working wives are the breadwinners for their families.”
In 2011, 72 percent of the single mothers in the U.S. were working.
In the workplace, pregnancy discrimination issues include denial of accommodations for the women, including extra bathroom breaks, light duty or flexible schedules to allow for prenatal care, Duhamel said.
Data collected in a 2012 survey indicates that 250,000 women were denied pregnancy related workplace accommodations in the U.S. each year.
“Employers frequently vilify pregnant workers and rely on stereotypes to fire them,” Duhamel said. “Employers paint pregnant workers as undependable and hold them to higher standards than non-pregnant workers,” she added.
Pregnant employees are also often forced to take unpaid leave or quit their jobs altogether.
Sixty percent of employers used claims about performance to justify firing or demoting pregnant employees, while 75 percent of employees said employers never had issues with their performance until their employer was told they were pregnant.
“The U.S. joins Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua, New Guinea, as the only countries that do not mandate paid maternity leave,” Duhamel said. “Most countries ensure at least three months of paid leave for new mothers, and many give fathers benefits too.”
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