Op-Ed

Don’t make women choose between healthy pregnancy and a paycheck. Pass Senate Bill 18.

Tribune News Service

There’s one day left in the Kentucky General Assembly and among the bills pending final passage in the House is Senate Bill 18, the Pregnant Workers Act. I’ve advocated for the passage of this bipartisan legislation for years, each year thinking that it’s no-brainer in a state like Kentucky, only to watch it languish and fail to make it to the finish line.

The legislation is simple and straightforward-a business with 15 or more employees must make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers to ensure safe and healthy working conditions. That’s it. There’s no hidden agenda. Reasonable accommodations are simple things like allowing a pregnant worker to carry a water bottle to avoid dehydration and maintain amniotic fluid for healthy development of the child. An employer could be asked to allow additional bathroom breaks so a pregnant person can avoid urinary tract infections and the associated risk of preeclampsia and preterm birth. A reasonable accommodation is providing a stool to alleviate the pain and discomfort of standing for a long time or providing a safe, private space for postpartum employees to express milk.

A recent Center for Health Equity report shows these simple steps can translate into improved birth outcomes and a lifetime of better health for the child. And as bill champion Senator Alice Forgy-Kerr (R-Lexington) always points out, pregnancy is a temporary condition lasting approximately 40 weeks.

This protection is so critical groups from across the political spectrum, including the ACLU of Kentucky, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police, Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky, A Better Balance, United Way of Kentucky, March of Dimes, Students for Life, and others have worked in coalition for years trying to get it signed into law.

Citing the fact that Kentucky ranks 44th in the nation for female workforce participation, Greater Louisville, Inc. (GLI) joined with us, and made Senate Bill 18 one of their legislative priorities for this legislative session. GLI’s president and CEO Kent Oyler calls Senate Bill 18, “pro-business, pro-workforce legislation that will be good for our state’s economy.”

No one should have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a paycheck, but without the clear guidance included in Senate Bill 18, Kentucky families will continue to be forced into making these impossible calculations.

Officer Lyndi Trischler of the Florence Police Department has bravely shared her story with members of the General Assembly several times. Officer Trischler was forced onto unpaid leave during a complicated pregnancy, losing her paycheck and health insurance as a result. Instead of being able to protect and serve the people of Florence, she was forced to fight to maintain stable housing for her family. She keeps speaking out in support of the Pregnant Workers Act so that no one has to endure what she did.

Senate Bill 18 is in the House Orders of the Day for the final day of the General Assembly, March 28. It has already passed the Senate and only needs a vote in the House to send it to Governor Bevin’s desk. At this time when our state is deeply divided over matters of reproduction, I hope that the one thing we can all come together to support is pregnant workers in Kentucky having access to safe and healthy working conditions to improve health outcomes for their developing children.

If you agree, call the legislative message line (1-800-372-7181) daily through March 28 and make sure your House Rep will call on House Leadership to bring Senate Bill 18 to a vote.

Amber Duke is Communications Director at the ACLU of Kentucky.

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