A bill that would have given accommodations to pregnant workers such as longer and more frequent breaks failed in the Indiana Senate on Monday.
The original bill held wide-range bipartisan support, including that of Gov. Eric Holcomb, but failed to pass. Support for the bill included a coalition of Indiana businesses, policy and legislative groups and volunteer organizations, which publicly petitioned the General Assembly for the passage of the bill.
The Indiana Senate instead voted to pass an added amendment that will turn the bill into an in-depth study rather than a law. Sen. Andy Zay added the amendment ,which would create a summer study to investigate the conditions of pregnant workers.
“It’s heartbreaking that this bill didn’t pass,” said Kate Hess Pace, executive director of Hoosier Action. “It’s shameful for the senators who run on pro-life stances.”
Hoosier Action is one of the vocal groups of the coalition, which petitioned against Zay's amendment when it was added to the bill.
The bill would have created reasonable accommodations such as longer and more frequent breaks, the ability to sit while working or temporary changes of duties. The bill would also have allowed women to be secure in their employment while they’re pregnant. It would allow them to feel comfortable asking for reasonable accommodations without any fear, Hess Pace said.
“It takes the burden of responsibility off of the employee,” said Tim Brown, director of policy and legislative affairs and general counsel for the Indy Chamber. “It clearly states the reasonable accommodations that the employer would have to provide.”
Indy Chamber is one leader of the coalition of Indiana groups and businesses, along with the Indiana Institute for Working Families and the March of Dimes.
Dr. Sarah Stelzner, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine, testified Jan. 27 in support of the bill on the State Senate floor. She said it was a commonsense bill that would address the infant mortality rates in Indiana and hopefully reduce poor outcomes.
Mothers don’t always know their rights, Stelzner said, especially low-income and minority women. Mothers need the knowledge to advocate for themselves and for their children, she said. Even when she first became a mother in the medical field, Stelzner said she was not given these small accommodations.
Indiana has the 26th-worst preterm birth rate and ranks seventh in infant mortality in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Indiana, nearly 85,000 women give birth each year. Research found reductions in preterm births when women limit their daily exposure to harsh work conditions, according to a press release from the Institute of Working Families.
Nationwide, an estimated 250,000 pregnant workers are denied small accommodations each year in the United States because of the lack of clear legislation for how to accommodate pregnant workers. Pushing pregnant women out of their jobs is still common, even if they only need small accommodations, like to sit down, according to the press release.
“I don’t know if things will get any better without this bill,” Stelzner said. “I don’t think they can get much worse.”
It is also important to focus on the ability of new mothers to breastfeed, Stelzner said. If every mother was able to breastfeed for the first six months of the child’s life, the health industry would save $13 billion, because breastfeeding is healthier for both mothers and babies, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Accommodating postpartum mothers is as important as accommodating pregnant mothers, she said.
“Education is not enough,” Stelzner said. “We need to legislate these commonsense ideas in order to be effective and to protect families.”