MATERNITY LEAVE: State Restricts Pregnancy Disability
The California Employment Development Department announced yesterday that pregnant women must have a medical provider certify that they are unable to perform their jobs in order to qualify for state disability, drawing criticism from women's groups and public health advocates. Lynette Bell, spokesperson for the department, said, "[D]isability for pregnancy evolved into something it was never meant to be. We're just trying to make it like all other claims. It should be no different than a broken leg. Some broken legs take longer than others to heal, just like some pregnancies require more time off than others." California is one of five states with a pregnancy disability program. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports that for nearly "two decades, the rule of thumb ... has been four weeks of paid disability leave before delivery and six weeks after." Under the state's disability program, disabled workers receive 60% of their weekly salary.
Linda McCabe, president of the Sonoma County chapter of the National Organization for Women, said, "Pregnancy should never have been considered a disability in the first place. It was the only way to get government to provide some form of support for families. And what they do provide -- about 60% of your salary for a few weeks -- is really only lip service. Now they won't even be doing that." Rosanne Gephart, director of the Women's Health & Birth Center in Santa Rosa, said that the policy change could adversely affect the health of infants by reducing the incidence of breast-feeding. She said, "You need at least [six weeks] to establish a successful breast-feeding routine, and there have been several studies that show breast-fed babies grow up healthier. It may end up being more expensive for the government in the long run if a bunch of unhealthy kids get into the health care system." She predicted that poorer women would be disproportionately hurt by the change, since they will have more difficulty obtaining a doctor's note. The Press Democrat reports that "[s]tate officials would not estimate how much money the new pregnancy policy might save the state" (Lauer, 11/24).