Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

November 7, 2013

Guides to Breastfeeding and Working

The American College of Nurse-Midwives recently published a free guide to breastfeeding and working, which carries tips for preparing to go back to work full-time, what to look for in a breast pump, how often to pump, and how to store milk.

The suggestions are very practical, although some — such as working part-time or working from home for a while — are not realistic for many women, especially in non-office or hourly jobs.

Newer legal protections for breastfeeding workers, however, should make some aspects of breastfeeding and work a little easier to manage. One rarely mentioned benefit of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is that the act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to require employers to provide breaks for nursing mothers to express breast milk for a year after the child’s birth.

Workplaces with 50 or more employees are required to provide “a reasonable amount” of break time for expressing milk as often as needed, as well as a functional space for pumping that is *not* a bathroom.

The employers are not required to pay for the time of these breaks. Employers with fewer than 50 employees might be exempt if they claim it creates a “hardship,” so it’s important to check on if you work for a small business. The Department of Labor provides more resources on this topic for workers and employers.

Some states also have laws that protect breastfeeding women in the workplace. Where the state law does a better job of protecting workplace breastfeeding/pumping, the state law is what applies.

See also: Previous posts and excerpts from “Our Bodies, Ourselves” on breastfeeding.

March 21, 2012

Supreme Court Ruling on Family & Medical Leave Act “Appalling and Dangerous,” Says Deborah Ness

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Tuesday that state government workers may not sue their employers for money for violating a part of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act dealing with personal sick leave.

Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, which drafted and fought to pass the FMLA, called the decision “an appalling and dangerous ruling that simply cannot stand.”

The case was brought by Daniel Coleman, a Maryland state court employee who was fired after requesting a 10-day medical leave. The state argued that federal law could not be applied because states, as sovereigns, are generally immune from lawsuits seeking monetary damages.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 entitles eligible employees 12 weeks of job-secured leave during any 12-month period for: (A) the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth; (B) the adoption or foster care of a child and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement; (C) care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition; (D) a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position.

The case hinged on whether the sick-leave provision addressed gender bias. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, said it did not. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with the judgment but did not join Kennedy’s opinion, excerpted below:

Without widespread evidence of sex discrimination or sex stereotyping in the administration of sick leave, it is apparent that the congressional purpose in enacting the self-care provision is unrelated to these supposed wrongs. The legislative history of the self-care provision reveals a concern for the economic burdens on the employee and the employee’s family resulting from illness-related job loss and a concern for discrimination on the basis of illness, not sex. [...] It is true the self-care provision offers some women a benefit by allowing them to take leave for pregnancy-related illnesses; but as a remedy, the provision is not congruent and proportional to any identified constitutional violations.

So since they found no evidence of discrimination or sex stereotyping, the majority found no reason to lift the usual protections against suing a state.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. From the dissent:

The FMLA’s purpose and legislative history reinforce the conclusion that the FMLA, in its entirety, is directed at sex discrimination. Indeed, the FMLA was originally envisioned as a way to guarantee—without singling out women or pregnancy—that pregnant women would not lose their jobs when they gave birth. The self-care provision achieves that aim.

It goes on to provide an interesting history of the development of the FMLA.

“The best way to protect women against losing their jobs because of pregnancy or childbirth, Congress determined, was not to order leaves for women only, for that would deter employers from hiring them,” said Ginsburg, who took the unusual step of summarizing the dissent from the bench, signaling a major disagreement. “Instead, Congress adopted leave polices from which all could benefit.”

Ness, whose organization led a group of 10 civil and workers’ rights organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the Coleman case, was outspoken in her criticism of the court’s decision:

Justice Ginsburg noted that “[t]he plurality pays scant attention to the overarching aim of the FMLA: to make it feasible for women to work while sustaining family life. Over the course of eight years, Congress considered the problem of workplace discrimination against women, and devised the FMLA to reduce sex-based inequalities in leave programs. The self-care provision is a key part of that endeavor, and in my view, a valid exercise of congressional power….”

Even Justice Kennedy’s opinion acknowledged that “[d]ocumented discrimination against women in the general workplace is a persistent, unfortunate reality, and, we must assume, a still prevalent wrong. An explicit purpose of the Congress in adopting the FMLA was to improve workplace conditions for women.”

Today’s ruling underscores how tenuous the rights of workers are in this country, and the urgent imperative for the Senate to confirm only those justices and judges who have a demonstrated commitment to equal rights under the law and a real understanding of the impact of their rulings on women, workers and others who struggle to make ends meet.

For more information, view the Kevin Russell’s coverage at SCOTUSblog, including Kevin Russell’s recap of the oral arguments.

Plus: Earlier this year, Judith Lichtman, a National Partnership for Women and Families senior advisor, presented seven specific recommendations to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on what federal agencies can do in response to discrimination based on pregnancy and caregiving. View her full testimony (pdf).

April 28, 2010

Quick Hit: NPR Covers 50 Years of the Pill

Monday’s episode of NPR program “On Point” focused on “The Pill’s Impact, Past and Present.” A transcript doesn’t seem to be available, but you can listen to the program online. The “On Point” site also links to a recent Time magazine piece on the topic, The Pill at 50: Sex, Freedom and Paradox.

Last Friday, “On Point” also covered the status of women in the workforce and pay equality. I haven’t heard either piece yet myself, but plan to listen soon. Let us know what you thought in the comments.

September 7, 2009

Women & Labor: Lillian Moller Gilbreth, Peggy Olson and the Next Generation

Hope you’re all relaxing today, at least for a little bit. Here are a few articles that seem fitting in honor of Labor Day …

- At Women’s eNews, Kate Kelly describes the work of Lillian Moller Gilbreth, also known as the Mother of Modern Management, who was an industrial engineer and a pioneer in creating work environments that met the needs of the disabled. This is the first I’ve heard of Gilbreth, a mother of 12, and continued to read more about her incredible life at Webster and Wikipedia. Gilbreth’s papers are at Smith College.

- From Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz: “Last week, in a 5-1 ruling, the highest court here ruled that an Ohio law that bans discrimination against pregnant women does not protect them from punishment for taking unauthorized breaks to use a breast pump after they birth those babies. And you thought we were a trendsetter only in presidential election years.” Read on.


- “Mad Men,” my favorite TV show of the moment, offers a poignant look at the trials of women in the workplace in the early 1960s. The series is set at a growing ad agency on Madison Avenue (that’s copywriter Peggy Olson, played by Elisabeth Moss, above), and it’s full of cringe-worthy moments. Seven of the show’s nine writers are women, which Amy Chozick notes is a rarity in Hollywood television.

Joan Wickersham, who worked as a copywriter in a Boston ad agency in the 1980s, writes in the Boston Globe that “long after the 1960s, the workplace was still stuck in the same cultural blind spot satirized in ‘Mad Men.’” She shares this story of a client presenting prototypes of two computer games — the one targeted to boys involved building a railway empire; the one targeted to girls involved deciding where to put furniture in a house.

I suggested to the client that maybe the girls’ game needed a little more substance. The boys’ game was ambitious, intellectually challenging – couldn’t something similar be devised for the girls? Or maybe they didn’t need their own game. Maybe they’d be just as excited as the boys about building a railway empire. Maybe . . .

One of the men I worked with gave me a look. A look that said: “You’re being a pest, and a troublemaker. Shut up.’’

And I did.

Fast forward another 25 years, and consider Wal-Mart’s gendered back-to-school commercials, as described by Claire Mysko:

Boy version with Mom voiceover: “I can’t go to class with him. I can’t do his history report for him, or show the teachers how curious he is. That’s his job. My job is to give him everything he needs to succeed while staying within a budget…I love my job.” Cut to boy with his new affordable laptop. He’s getting applause from his teacher and the students in the class as he delivers a report.

Girl version with Mom voiceover:“I can’t go to school with her. I can’t introduce her to new friends.” Cut to girl nervously asking “Can I sit here?” to a group of girls sitting together at lunch. “Sure, I like your top!” one of them answers. “Or tell everyone how amazing she is. But I can give her what she needs to feel good about herself without breaking my budget. All she has to do is be herself.” Cut to smiling girls walking arm-in-arm down the hallway.

It appears that much work still needs to be done.

May 19, 2009

Oprah is Not Your Doctor and Much, Much More

The Double Dose/Political Diagnosis catch-up edition …

Taking Medical Advice From Oprah: In a word, don’t.

Blogging the Common Ground: CNN’s “blogger bunch” discussion on abortion, following President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame, includes our fave Ann Friedman of Feministing and The American Prospect.

Supreme Court Rules 7-2 Against Women Workers: Women whose pension payments are reduced because they took pregnancy-related leave in the 1960s and 1970s, when pregnancy discrimination wasn’t illegal, aren’t entitled to full pension benefits now, the Supreme Court ruled Monday. The women lost an appeal aimed at forcing AT&T to grant compensatory service credits to boost their pensions.

Motherhood, a Discussion: A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released this month found that the percentage of children born to unmarried women rose to nearly 40 percent of births in 2007, up from 34 percent in 2002. The New York Times invited five experts to weigh in: Silvia Henriquez, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; Stephanie Coontz, Council on Contemporary Families; Corinne Maier, author; Mark Regnerus, sociology professor; and Libertad González Luna, economics professor.

FEMA’s Healthier Housing?: From NPR: The Federal Emergency Management Agency has unveiled new models of temporary housing designed to provide shelter for people displaced by natural disasters. A serious plus: They have been built with as little formaldehyde as possible, unlike the trailers FEMA provided to Hurricane Katrina victims.

New CDC Director: President Obama on Friday appointed New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Dr. Frieden, a 48-year-old infectious disease specialist, has cut a high and sometimes contentious profile in his seven years as New York’s top health official under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg,” reports The New York Times. “He led the crusade to ban smoking in restaurants and bars, pushed to make H.I.V. testing a routine part of medical exams, and defended a program that passes out more than 35 million condoms a year.”

Medicaid as a Platform for Heath Reform: Kaiser Family Foundation released a package of research papers last week that examine opportunities for expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income and high-need people in ways that would enable the program to serve as a platform for larger national health reform efforts. The papers were released at a public briefing on Medicaid as a Platform for Broader Health Reform. A webcast of the briefing is available.

Plus: Also from Kaiser — an expert panel examined the global health aspects of Obama’sFiscal Year 2010 budget, including allocations for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). The panel, part of KFF’s new “U.S. Global Health Policy: In Focus” live webcast series, also discussed what the next steps are for the budget with Congress. The webcast and podcast is available.

Max Baucus is for Health Care Reform: But Democrats aren’t entirely sure which side the Montana senator and Finance Committee chairman is on, reports Politico. “Baucus puts a premium on bipartisanship, and if he insists on winning more than a handful of Republican votes, the final product could look vastly different than a bill passed through the Senate with only a simple majority.”

Meanwhile, centrist Democrats have raised concerns with House leaders over a health reform bill that includes a public insurance plan that competes with the private insurance market … Hospitals and insurance companies want to reduce the growth of health care spending, but not like that … James Ridgeway wrote earlier in the week at Mother Jones that “the underlying purpose of this PR stunt is to slow or block any meaningful health care reforms, which could actually improve care while reducing the price tag by a lot more than 1.5 percent.” … The Washington Post deconstructs the White House email on health care reform … And Covering Health, the blog of the Association of Healthcare Journalists, asks: Have reporters written off single-payer system?

Single Payer Would Have Been Nice, But …: If the country were building a health care system from scratch, a single-payer system would be the way to go, Obama said in response to a question about single-payer health care at a town-hall style meeting in New Mexico last week. But at this point, with a tradition of employer-based health care already in place, the goal is simply to improve the current system. Here’s the discussion:

May 4, 2009

Swine Flu Update: Sick Days, Breastfeeding Guidelines and More Tracking Resources

If you have flu symptoms, the CDC — and President Obama — recommend that you stay home. But how realistic is that?

As Rachel previously noted, the swine flu has prompted numerous advocacy groups to point out the gaps in our health and social welfare systems — such as a lack of paid sick days — that complicate our ability to address public health needs during a pandemic. New York Times columnist Judith Warner raised the issue in a recent blog post, prompting a discussion on health care and public policy that has garnered more than 300 comments.

“Nearly half of all private sector workers in our country – more than 59 million people – have no paid sick time at all,” writes Warner, pointing to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “The problem is particularly acute among women, low-wage workers – more than three-quarters of whom have no paid sick days – and part-timers.”

Warner talked with Silvia Del Valle, a 42-year-old restaurant worker in Miami, who said she would go to work despite having a cough and a fever. If she didn’t go, she would lose her job. Warner continues:

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, only 14 percent of the people serving and handling food in restaurants can stay home from work when they’re coughing and sneezing, without fear of losing their jobs. José Oliva, the policy coordinator for the advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, told me that among the food service employees he normally counsels – many of whom, like Del Valle, speak poor English and earn well below the minimum wage for tipped employees – only about one percent can stay home sick without the fear of losing pay or even their jobs.

Del Valle has been working in Miami-area restaurants for seven years. She currently works nine hours a night for a flat fee of $30, and sends much of those earnings home to her parents and teenage daughter in Argentina.

Had she ever had the right to a paid sick day, I asked her.

“Not in this country,” she said.

Had she ever had any benefits?

“Never in this country,” she answered.

“Never in this country” is the sort of phrase that ought, in our country, to be paired with concepts like “unaffordable health care” or “lack of maternity leave” or “lack of ability to stay home in case of pandemic.” Instead, thanks to business groups, it has long applied to any workplace policy that could bring substantial quality of life improvements – including basic job security – to American families.

Plus: The CDC this weekend published information on what parents should know about the flu and breastfeeding.

Two important points: It is OK to breastfeed your baby if you are sick, even if you’re being treated for the flu, and it is OK to breastfeed if your baby is sick. “One of the best things you can do for your sick baby is keep breastfeeding,” the site states. (Of course, there’s a lot more that can be done to support women who breastfeed, but that’s a post for later this week.)

The CDC previously issued Interim Guidance—Pregnant Women and Swine Influenza: Considerations for Clinicians, which addresses the presentation of the disease in pregnant women, along with prevention, treatment and breastfeeding considerations. The guidelines were updated on Friday.

As for more general resources, is a good source of domestic and global information. Technology columnist Don Reisinger identifies more online resources for tracking the flu, including social media sites with heavy coverage.

April 29, 2009

Swine Flu Concerns Draw Attention to Need for Midwives, Sick Leave

The swine flu news of recent days has sparked calls from advocacy organizations for attention to issues that a pandemic may exacerbate, such as the lack of paid sick leave and the lack of  of availability of licensed midwives to attend home births.

MomsRising, a campaign to bring “important motherhood and family issues to the forefront of the country’s awareness,” includes paid sick leave among the concerns it addresses. They note that advice from officials has been to stay home if sick, in order to avoid further transmission of the virus, but that:

This is easier said than done. In the U.S. today, nearly half of workers aren’t allowed to earn paid sick days (i.e. they don’t have a single paid sick day to take when illness strikes in order to keep our communities healthy and not spread illness). And more than half of the workforce does not have or cannot use paid sick days to care for sick children.

The group has further discussion here, including a link to a petition in support of paid sick leave.

Additionally, The Big Push for Midwives campaign issued a release (PDF) yesterday calling on policy makers to support and legalize Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) for the provision of out-of-hospital birth in the scenario that hospitals are an undesirable place for otherwise healthy pregnant women. CPMs currently are “legally authorized to practice in just over half the states and are eligible for Medicaid reimbursement in fewer than a dozen states.”

Colette Bernhard, Vice President of Illinois Families for Midwifery, explained:

Hospitals filled to capacity with flu patients are unsafe and inaccessible places for healthy women to deliver their babies….legal and reimbursement barriers at the state and federal level prevent far too many Certified Professional Midwives, who already have the necessary training and equipment, to utilize their services to the fullest. Given the very real possibility of a flu pandemic, the need to fully incorporate CPMs into our health care system could not be more urgent.

Russ Fawcett of The National Birth Policy Coalition called for states “to get on board and license CPMs to practice legally” and argued that “it is every bit as critical that our federal policy makers require Homeland Security to include CPMs—who function as mobile primary care facilities for pregnant women—in disaster planning at local, regional, and national levels and as eligible providers for the National Health Service Corps.”

Relatedly, the CDC has issued “Interim Guidance—Pregnant Women and Swine Influenza: Considerations for Clinicians” – guidance addresses the presentation of the disease in pregnant women, prevention, treatment, and breastfeeding considerations.

For more information on swine flu generally, see the CDC website (with news and resources for both the general public and clinicians), CDCemergency on Twitter (you don’t need an account to follow the updates), and this consumer health page from MedlinePlus.

March 15, 2009

Double Dose: Congress Moves to Ban BPA; Kansas Abortion Doctor on Trial; Pregnant Inmates Denied Abortion Access; Racial Disparities and Breast Cancer; Targeting Craigslist Over Prostitution; Health Data State by State …

Congress Considers Ban on BPA: Senate and House leaders on Friday said they would introduce bills establishing a federal ban on the chemical bisphenol A in all food and beverage containers. Meg Kissinger of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes:

The move comes a day after Sunoco, the gas and chemical company, sent word to investors that it was now refusing to sell bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, to companies for use in food and water containers for children younger than 3. Sunoco told investors it could not be certain of the compound’s safety. Last week, six baby bottle manufacturers, including Playtex and Gerber, announced that they would stop using BPA.

The bills would immediately outlaw the sale of all food and drink containers made with BPA. Anything on store shelves would have to be removed. It would suspend the manufacture of food packaged in containers that contain the chemical, but items already made could be sold.

For more information, check out the Journal Sentinel’s ongoing BPA investigation “Chemical Fallout,” at Great reporting.

Tiller Trial Starts Monday: The L.A. Times previews the trial of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, who faces charges stemming from late-term procedures, and the politics surrounding his prosecution.

Pregnant Inmates Denied Abortion Access: Writing at Feministing, Diana Kasdan, staff attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, discusses the limited access pregnant inmates have to abortion.

A new study, “Incarcerated Women and Abortion Provision: A Survey of Correctional Health Providers,” found that only 68 percent of respondents indicated that women in their facilities can obtain “elective” abortions. And a recent investigative piece in the Texas Observer reported, “For pregnant women in immigration detention facilities, it is virtually impossible to obtain an abortion.”

Racial Disparities and Breast Cancer: An article in the International Journal of Cancer points to high blood pressure as a cause for some of the disproportionately higher mortality rates among African American women with breast cancer compared with white women, reports Reuters. Hypertension explained 30.3 percent of racial disparity in “all-cause survival,’ as well as 20 percent of the racial disparity in breast cancer-specific survival. The study abstract is available online.

Dannon Goes rBGH-Free: As we reported earlier, General Mills, which makes Yoplait, agreed to stop using milk treated with artificial growth hormones in its yogurt. Now Dannon has followed suit. The decision makes economic sense: More than 200 hospitals around the country recently pledged to serve rBGH-free products to their patients, staff and visitors.

Writing about the move by both companies, Patty Fisher of the Mercury News notes that Yoplait never acknowledged any concern over rBGH and women’s health, despite promoting breast cancer awareness through yogurt sales. “The ‘rBGH-free’ label will be on the carton because it will sell yogurt. I guess that’s why the pink ribbon is there, too.

New State Numbers: recently added new and updated data on Demographics and the Economy, Medicaid & CHIP, Medicare, Managed Care & Health Insurance, Providers & Service Use, Health Status and HIV/AIDS.

A list of all recent updates is available here. is part of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Plus: Utah, Hawaii and Wyoming top the nation in well-being in an analysis of more than 350,000 interviews conducted in 2008. Southern states West Virginia, Kentucky and Mississippi have the lowest well-being ratings, according to a new Gallup survey.

The Well-Being Index score for the nation and for each state is an average of six sub-indexes: life evaluation, healthy behaviors, work environment, physical health, emotional health and access to basic necessities.

National Women & Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: March 10th was National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Here’s a great post by Veronica explaining why women and girls need to be the focus of an education and awareness effort.

Reproductive Health in Africa: North Carolina Public Radio reports on the high maternal mortality rate in Zambia, where the number of women who die during pregnancy or childbirth is 60 to 70 times higher than it is in the United States. As part of the series North Carolina Voices, Global Health Connections, Rose Hoban traveled to the Zambian capitol of Lusaka to spend time with health care workers who work with Ipas, a global nonprofit organization based in Chapel Hill that helps women get access to the full range of reproductive services.

Targeting Craigslist Over Prostitution: Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart filed a federal lawsuit against Craigslist, asking the website to remove its “erotic services” section, calling it a public nuisance that knowingly facilitates prostitution.

“At a news conference, the sheriff said his office has made hundreds of prostitution arrests, many of them based on ads found on Craigslist,” reports the Chicago Tribune. “But the sex-for-sale ads still proliferate on the site five months after Craigslist promised new safeguards to settle a nationwide lawsuit by the top state prosecutors from Illinois and 39 other states.”

Where Are the Female Coaches in Youth Sports?: University of Southern California sociologist Michael Messner has written a new book about the persistent gender divisions in youth sports, especially at the coaching level. He expands on his findings at Moms Team and shares tips from women coaches.

February 21, 2009

Double Dose: The VBAC-lash; Agreement on Health Care Reform?; Teen Sexual Harassment in the Workplace; Bye Bye Go-Daddy …

Searching for Common Ground: Robert Pear of The New York Times reports on an apparent consensus emerging among key players in the health care debate:

Many of the parties, from big insurance companies to lobbyists for consumers, doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, are embracing the idea that comprehensive health care legislation should include a requirement that every American carry insurance.

While not all industry groups are in complete agreement, there is enough of a consensus, according to people who have attended the meetings, that they have begun to tackle the next steps: how to enforce the requirement for everyone to have health insurance; how to make insurance affordable to the uninsured; and whether to require employers to help buy coverage for their employees.

Health Care “Reform” is Not Enough: “Most current health care reform initiatives, including those of Barack Obama, focus on providing wider access to health insurance. They do little to address the underlying problems with our health care system,” writes Susan Yanow in On The Issues magazine. Yanow identifies the top five problem areas for women with our insurance-driven health system.

Plus: This list of 10 ways to spend less on health care during a recession is well-meaning, but the list assumes a level of privilege that leaves out millions. I keep thinking of this story from last week.

“Is Your Daughter Safe at Work?”: The PBS program NOW has collaborated with the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University on an unprecedented broadcast investigation of teen sexual harassment in the workplace. Check your local PBS station schedule for air dates.

The NOW website has a terrific collection of useful links and resources, as does the Schuster Institute, including an interactive map with links to information about specific teen sexual harassment cases gone to court. Keep in mind the map reflects a tiny proportion of probable cases. Kudos to EJ Graff for kicking off this project with her article, “Is Your Daughter Safe at Work?,” published in Good Housekeeping in June 2007.

The Trouble With Repeat Cesareans: “Much ado has been made recently of women who choose to have cesareans, but little attention has been paid to the vast number of moms who are forced to have them,” writes Pamela Paul at Time magazine. “More than 9 out of 10 births following a C-section are now surgical deliveries, proving that ‘once a cesarean, always a cesarean’ — an axiom thought to be outmoded in the 1990s — is alive and kicking.” A good look at the VBAC-lash.

North Dakota House Passes Egg-as-Person Bill: “On Tuesday, one body of North Dakota’s state legislature voted, 51-41, not only to ban abortion, but to define life as beginning at conception. Such a measure, considered extreme even by pro-life standards, would have far-reaching consequences on women’s health,” writes Kay Steiger at RH Reality Check.

Understandably, Rachel Has Some Concerns …: About a proposed Tennessee bill that calls for testing some pregnant for alcohol and drugs.

Gone Daddy Gone: I couldn’t agree more with Creativity magazine editor Teressa Lezzi, who writes at

After this year’s Super Bowl, I just couldn’t do it anymore. As it was, any time I had to log on to Go Daddy I felt some combination of embarrassment and annoyance at the registrar’s approach to women and marketing. But after its execrable ad efforts around this year’s game, I found that I just couldn’t stomach contributing anything to this organization any longer. I’m transferring my domains and my insignificant little piece of business elsewhere.

GoDaddy turned me off years ago because of its super lame ads, though I sometimes have to deal with the company for other clients. If sexist advertising isn’t reason enough to stay away, GoDaddy’s user interface sucks.

Cervical Cancer Vaccine Usage in California: A study by UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research found that one in four teenage girls in California  — about 378,000 out of 1.5 million — received at least one dose of the Gardasil vaccine in 2007, its first full year of distribution, reports the L.A. Times.

Truth Catches Up: Remember the eye-catching “truth” anti-smoking ads? Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the American Legacy Foundation estimate that the nations’ largest youth smoking prevention campaign saved $1.9 billion or more in health care costs associated with tobacco use. The findings appear in the Feb. 12 online edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The American Legacy Foundation, which launched the ads in 2000, spent $324 million to implement and evaluate the truth campaign.

Plus: Cigarette-maker Philip Morris was ordered to pay $8 million in damages to the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer in a case that could set the standard for 8,000 similar Florida lawsuits, reports NPR.

February 2, 2009

Candace Parker: Shooting for Career & Family

There are few female athletes whose pregnancy would be analyzed every which way in the public eye. Basketball phenom Candace Parker, 22, who drew national attention for winning a slam dunk contest when she was only 17, and later led the Tennessee Lady Vols to two straight NCAA championship titles and was the first pick in the 2008 WNBA draft, is one of those athletes.

Parker’s pregnancy — and what it means to her team, the Los Angeles Sparks, and to the WNBA, was the focus of a recent New York Times story. The story ran in the sports section, not Style, which more often than not is the keeper of stories on work/life balance.

“My whole career has been trying to please people in basketball,” said Parker, who is married to Sacramento Kings forward Shelden William. “Now it’s time to please myself.” She added, “For me, family has always come first.”

Parker is due in the spring and says she will play in the 2009 season, which starts in June. This has not kept fans from calling her “selfish” on internet message boards or questioning her commitment to her team. As the NYT’s Karen Crouse writes, no player has been counted on more than Parker, the face of the WNBA’s marketing campaign, to promote the women’s league.

Now it appears the league has figured out another way to make the most of the situation:

W.N.B.A. Commissioner Donna Orender said her initial reaction to Parker’s pregnancy was a quiet sigh of resignation. Then she thought of all the women in the more traditional workplace struggling with the issue of when or if to start a family, and she realized that Parker’s pregnancy provided a perfect modeling moment.

“Here she is, front and center, and people are discussing the timing of her reproductive life,” Orender said Friday in a telephone interview. “That’s a very public discussion that hasn’t happened before. I do think that’s a good thing for women who go through these issues often in silence or alone.”

She added, “Candace can be a very usable symbol of how you can have a family and a career.”

A few days after the NYT story ran, published this Q&A with Parker, described as a conversation about “her pregnancy, the balancing act of being a professional athlete and a mother, her road back to the basketball court once the baby is born and having a child in the Obama era of America.” (Who wouldn’t love to see Parker and the president go one-on-one at the White House court?)

Parker told the Times the only person in the basketball world whose opinion matters is her college coach, Pat Summitt, and she gave Parker her support. In an interview with Time magazine published today, Summitt repeated that she is excited for her former player.

“I don’t think she’ll have a problem working herself back into great shape, and playing in the league. And to criticize that — it’s her personal choice.”

(Summitt is making her own headlines this week. The longtime Lady Vols coach is one game away from achieving an amazing milestone: 1,000 wins. That victory could come tonight, as the Vols take on Oklahoma.)

Meanwhile, Women’s Hoops blogger Jayda Evans wonders what all the fuss is about.

Current Storm G Sheryl Swoopes, 37, was the first player signed by the league and one of three faces in the first marketing scheme when she became pregnant at age 26. She was back six-weeks after delivering Jordan in June 1997, creating a media frenzy in Houston. Swoopes went on to help the now defunct Comets win the first of their four championships.

Because Parker [...] is a healthy 22-year-old, I’m guessing she won’t have any complications. Again, so many women have done this in a variety of sports that the new theme should be how they can bring their children to work.

Plus: The divided public opinions on Parker’s pregnancy seem to have tied up the NYT as well. The headline on the story reads, “Candace Parker Is Balancing Career and Family.”

Now look closely at the page title, which appears in the top bar of the browser. It reads, “Candace Parker Is Putting Family First.”

I took a screenshot (click image to enlarge) to record the difference.

January 29, 2009

Political Diagnosis: The Week in Women’s Health

Each week, Our Bodies, Our Blog will take a look at what’s happening in Washington and in the new Obama administration related to women’s health and well-being. This first week included major highs and lows:

President Obama signed his first piece of legislation today — the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It was expected, but still quite momentous. Watch the video of the signing:

The bill drew large support from Democrats; Republicans, not so much. See how your representative and your senators voted.

Lilly Ledbetter thanked her supporters today in a statement released by the National Women’s Law Center:

I can’t say thank you enough to the thousands of you who’ve worked with us in this fight. Your e-mails to Congress, your phone calls, and your letters of support have meant so much to me and to the movement for pay equity for all women. We knew we could count on you — and we couldn’t have done it without you.

In the months and years to come, the fight for fair pay will go on. We’re still fighting to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, and there will be other fronts in battle to close the wage gap once and for all. But we’ve taken an enormous step forward today. Thanks for taking that step with me.

Economic Stimulus Bill
Earlier this week Obama wasn’t in such good graces, as he urged Democrats to drop expansion of family planning funds from the economic stimulus bill. The provision would have allowed states to extend Medicaid family planning coverage to women with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, without the states first having to obtain a waiver from HHS.

Obama’s maneuvering may or may not have amounted to much, writes Katha Pollitt:

There are people who thought Obama practiced some clever political jiu-jitsu by bending over backwards to meet Republican objections. Supposedly, this bipartisan gesture would make it harder for Republicans to reject the bill. Whoops, guess not: House Republicans just voted against it unanimously. Backup theory: Well, now Obama looks reasonable and statesmanlike, while Republicans look rigid and insane. The stimulus will pass, and Republicans will get no credit. Low-income women get the shaft, but they should be used to it by now.

Read her whole column; it’s the best rebuttal I’ve read all week to arguments that birth control doesn’t belong in the stimulus bill.

Global Gag Rule
Last Friday Obama lifted the global gag rule, overturning eight years of Republican policy that prevented overseas family planning groups that receive U.S. funding from speaking about abortion. The Senate on Wednesday voted 60-37 to reject an amendment that would have reinstated the global gag rule  as part of legislation to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

RH Reality Check published two good pieces concerning the repeal. One discusses the effects of the gag rule on the ground; the other looks at how better to fund and address reproductive and sexual health internationally now that the gag rule is gone.

Useful Stuff
RAND Health, a division of the RAND Corporation, this month unveiled an online platform to assess healthcare reform policies. Called COMPARE, it’s described as “a transparent, evidence-based approach to providing information and tools to help policymakers, the media, and other interested parties understand, design, and evaluate health policies.” Meet the advisory committee.

Here’s a list of COMPARE’s objectives:

  • Synthesize what is known about the current health care system.
  • Describe policy options that have been proposed to address one or more existing challenges.
  • Analyze the effects of different health care policy options on multiple dimensions of health system performance.
  • Identify gaps in our knowledge about the effects of policy changes.

Action Items
* Support the Children’s Health Insurance Program
Send a message to your senators to support CHIP (National Women’s Law Center)

* Expand Access to Family Planning Services
Send a message to your representative, senator and President Obama (National Partnership for Women & Families)

* Ask President Obama to Stand Up for Family Planning
Call the White House comment line (RH Reality Check)

January 29, 2009

Two New Studies Suggest That Maternity Leave Benefits Health of Moms and Babies

It’s no secret that the United States has parental leave policies that are far less generous than most other nations, standing almost alone in offering no paid leave during or after a pregnancy.

Two new studies of maternity leave suggest reduced odds of a c-section and higher rates of breastfeeding when women take leave before and after birth. From the Juggling Work and Life During Pregnancy study of maternity leave and pregnancy outcomes, pregnant adult women from three counties in Southern California were interviewed at some point after delivery about work and family stress, maternity leave, birth outcomes, breastfeeding, and other details.

The first paper, from the Jan/Feb issue of the journal Women’s Health Issues, looks at women from the larger study population who worked full time and were eligible for California’s antenatal leave benefit after 35 weeks of pregnancy. The authors found that only 15% of workers took the paid pre-delivery leave for which they were eligible, and that women who took leave prior to delivery “had almost 4 times lower odds of a primary cesarean delivery as women who continued working.”

The authors note that further investigation is required to explain this different in outcomes. They looked at factors such as adequate sleep, occupation, income, and education, but did not find differences there that would explain their findings.

The second study, in the January issue of Pediatrics, reports on women’s responses to questions about whether they ever breastfed or pumped breast milk and when they stopped, if they had. The authors attempted to determine whether antenatal or postnatal leave was associated with establishing breastfeeding.

Not surprisingly, the authors found that “Mothers who returned to work within 12 weeks after delivery, and especially within 6 weeks, were less likely to establish breastfeeding than those who took longer leaves or who had not returned to work at time of the interview.” They also report that “having a manager position, autonomous position, or flexible work schedule was associated with longer breastfeeding duration.” Given the barriers to breastfeeding that working women face, especially in certain types of jobs, these findings are not terribly unexpected.

The design and statistics of these two studies are a bit complicated and perhaps worthy of additional critique – the authors themselves suggest cautious interpretation and further study. However, they certainly point in an interesting direction with regard to potential benefits – expected and unexpected – of maternity leave.

December 3, 2008

Striking the Work-Life Balance with Campbell Brown

Television newcomer Rachel Maddow is the best thing to happen to cable television this year. Campbell Brown, veteran political reporter, is a close second.

During the campaign, Brown took on sexist treatment of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Before that, she held the line during an interview with Tucker Bounds, spokesman for the McCain campaign, about Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience. That interview made me an eternal fan.

On “No Bias, No Bull,” a daily show on politics, Brown calls it like she sees it. And more often than anyone else on television, she’s sees the sexist comments and attitudes that seem to escape most political reporters and pundits (not surprising, since most of them are men and some have been known to tilt sexist themselves).

Brown latest commentary addresses assumptions about women and work, prompted by some not-so-smart comments Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell made about the selection of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano’s to lead Homeland Security. Here’s what Rendell said during a casual conversation held next to an open microphone:

Janet’s perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it.

Which prompted Brown to respond:

Wow. Now, I’m sure Gov. Napolitano has many qualifications for the job beyond having no family, and therefore the ability to devote 20 hours a day to the job.

But it is fascinating to me that that is the quality being highlighted here as so perfect. C’mon. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is married with two grown children. His predecessor, Tom Ridge, had a family. Anybody remember a debate about whether they would have trouble balancing the demands of work and family?

While Rendell got his lesson in mic etiquette, Brown also made sure the governor and anyone else who assumes women with families aren’t capable of taking on demanding jobs, and women without families have no life, understand how those assumptions hurt everyone. Watch the video (if you’re an IE user; can’t get it to work in Firefox, though you can view it at CNN) — another excerpt from the transcript is below.

Question one: If a man had been Obama’s choice for the job, would having a family or not having a family ever even have been an issue? Would it have ever prompted a comment? Probably not. We all know the assumption tends to be that with a man, there is almost always a wife in the wings managing those family concerns.

Question two: As a woman, hearing this, it is hard not to wonder if we are counted out for certain jobs, certain opportunities, because we do have a family or because we are in our child-bearing years. Are we? It is a fair question.

Three: If you are a childless, single woman with suspicions that you get stuck working holidays, weekends and the more burdensome shifts more often than your colleagues with families, are those suspicions well-founded? Probably so. Is there an assumption that if you’re family free then you have no life? By some, yes.

Again Gov. Rendell, I don’t mean to rake you over the coals. I know what you meant to say. But your comments do perpetuate stereotypes that put us in boxes, both mothers and single women. In government and beyond, men have been given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to striking the right work-life balance. Women are owed the same consideration.

September 3, 2008

Notes on Sarah Palin, Politics and Teenage Pregnancy

- The Reverend Debra W. Haffner, director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing, makes a good argument on the limits of family privacy when there are important public issues at stake. In a column reprinted at RH Reality Check, Haffner writes that the unplanned pregnancy of Gov. Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter “raises legitimate questions about Gov. Palin’s positions on sexuality education, teenage pregnancy and reproductive choice. Americans have every right, and American media the responsibility, to explore those questions without exploiting the child involved.”

- Funny that Rachel today cited a section of the Republican Platform that claims the party has “a moral obligation to assist, not to penalize, women struggling with the challenges of an unplanned pregnancy.”

The Washington Post notes that Palin used her line item veto to slash funding for programs that serve teenage mothers:

After the legislature passed a spending bill in April, Palin went through the measure reducing and eliminating funds for programs she opposed. Inking her initials on the legislation — “SP” — Palin reduced funding for Covenant House Alaska by more than 20 percent, cutting funds from $5 million to $3.9 million. Covenant House is a mix of programs and shelters for troubled youths, including Passage House, which is a transitional home for teenage mothers.

According to Passage House’s web site, its purpose is to provide “young mothers a place to live with their babies for up to eighteen months while they gain the necessary skills and resources to change their lives” and help teen moms “become productive, successful, independent adults who create and provide a stable environment for themselves and their families.”

Michelle Cottle at TNR says it best:

I’m sorry, but a politician who opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest and who opposes comprehensive sex education should be at the forefront of championing support systems that make it easier for young mothers to keep their babies. [...]

Surely a program aimed at assisting the most desperate of young mothers — those whose boyfriends aren’t amenable to a shotgun wedding or who don’t have a strong family support system — would be something a pro-life feminist such as Palin would work to expand not destroy.

- On the subject of working mothers, Ann Friedman suggests changing the conversation from can Gov. Palin balance work and family in the White House to what is she doing to help other working mothers?

Where does Palin stand on S-CHIP? On fair pay? On paid family leave? I have no idea. But her running mate, John McCain, was rated by the Children’s Defense [Fund Action Council] as the worst senator for children. He supports businesses who discriminate on the basis of gender. He attempted to weaken the Family and Medical Leave Act. And he supported Bush’s veto of S-CHIP. (Gloria Feldt and Carol Joffee have more.)

The real story here is not how Sarah Palin chooses to balance her own life. It’s about whether she (and McCain) are committed to making these choices easier for all women. And clearly, the answer is no.

- FInally, I think Rebecca Traister does an excellent job of summing up the frustration many have voiced about Palin’s nomination:

In his callous, superficial and ill-judged attempt to woo women voters with the presence of mammary glands on his ticket — hot, young ones to boot — McCain has committed a sickening grievance against both voters and those female politicians whom he purports to respect and support. What a failure by McCain to have this woman — with her pregnancies and progeny and sex life and child-rearing prowess now being inspected instead of her policy and voting history — stand in for, and someday, possibly emblemize the political progress of American women, especially at a moment at which women had, temporarily it seems, risen far enough above our gestational capabilities to be taken seriously in the race for the White House.

September 1, 2008

Occupational Health Resources for Labor Day

For Labor Day, a round-up of links dealing with occupational health and workplace-related issues relevant to women:

Women’s Safety and Health Issues at Work – National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

MedlinePlus: Occupational Health – National Library of Medicine

Women and Occupational Health – World Health Organization

Workplace Safety and Health – CDC

Women Workers – Human Rights Watch

Working it Out: Breastfeeding at Work – La Leche League

National Center for Farmworker Health

Have more, especially on specific topic areas? Please leave them in the comments!