By Victoria Arthur
Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers
From the governor’s office to a growing grassroots effort around the state, momentum is building for Indiana to join more than half the nation in providing reasonable accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace.
Companion bills introduced in the Indiana House of Representatives and the Indiana Senate would require employers with at least 15 full-time employees to provide reasonable adjustments for the safety and wellbeing of pregnant workers. Accommodations would include longer and more frequent breaks, modified work schedules, access to appropriate seating and temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous environments.
House Bill 1358, authored by Rep. Sharon Negele (R-Attica), and Senate Bill 246, authored by Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette), are currently awaiting committee hearings. Gov. Eric Holcomb highlighted the legislation in his 2021 State of the State address.
As it has with similar efforts in recent years, the Indiana Catholic Conference stands in strong support of the proposed legislation, which it considers pro-life.
“We want to do everything we can to ensure that a woman doesn’t have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and her job,” said Angela Espada, executive director of the ICC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana. “Among the pillars of Catholic social teaching are respect for the dignity of human life from conception to natural death, as well as the dignity of workers. These bills will protect mothers and their unborn babies as well as provide workplace stability for employers.”
For Espada, this issue is personal. During a hearing on similar pregnancy accommodation legislation last year, Espada shared her own story of being born two months prematurely to a mother who worked long hours in an industrial laundry facility. The ICC and other advocates were dismayed when companion bills ultimately stalled in the 2020 General Assembly in the face of opposition from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Indiana Manufacturers Association and others who raised questions about the impact of the legislation, particularly on small businesses.
This year, the ICC and its allies are hopeful that updates to that legislation will result in the passage of the current bills.
“This year’s bills draw from legislation that passed unanimously in Tennessee last year,” said Erin Macey, senior policy analyst for the Indiana Institute for Working Families. “While in substance they are still very similar in their aim to last year’s bills, we are hopeful that some of the modest changes will help ease objections.”
Pregnancy accommodation efforts are perhaps more critical than ever now, Macey said, as women have been disproportionately affected by job losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Macey’s organization is among those partnering with the Grassroots Maternal and Child Health Leadership Training Project, concentrating efforts in areas of Indiana with persistently high maternal and infant mortality rates. This coalition, associated with the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI, is mentoring women to become community leaders and policy advocates on these matters.
Among these advocates is Destiny Faceson, who has been working with other grassroots leaders to support HB 1358 and SB 246. Several years ago, as a first-time mother during her third trimester of pregnancy, she lost her retail job because she was penalized for too many prenatal medical appointments.
“The closer it came to my due date, the more stress and uncertainty I experienced,” Faceson said. “The pregnancy-accommodation legislation is important because it would relieve the stress factors that cause preterm births, miscarriages and other health factors that not only affect the child but the mother’s health, including mental health.”
Espada expressed hope that the legislation would be enacted as the Catholic Church nationwide moves toward the conclusion in late March of its yearlong effort to draw attention to the challenges of mothers, especially the poor. “Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service” began in March 2020 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s groundbreaking encyclical Evangelium Vitae, or “The Gospel of Life.”
“It would be wonderful if we could pass this legislation this year,” Espada said.
To follow this and other priority legislation of the ICC, visit www.indianacc.org. This website includes access to I-CAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network, which offers the Church’s position on key issues. Those who sign up for I-CAN receive alerts on legislation moving forward and ways to contact their elected representatives.