Dr. Emily Boevers is a Ob-Gyn physician practicing primarily in Waverly, Iowa. When not taking care of patients she enjoys spending time with her husband and three children.
Labor Day: a celebration of American ingenuity, prosperity and economic achievements. Like Independence Day, this holiday requires ongoing recognition and defense of the important role that citizens play in its origins. From its inception as a labor union holiday to its current position as a day for the working-class people of America, this is a day for American workers to be recognized for the sweat and stress they contribute to the modern economy.
It is estimated that the women of America supply $21 billion per day to the US economy, not including unpaid domestic labor. Part of economic wellness is also a strong supply of the next generation of skilled workers. As an expert in maternal health, I cannot help but wonder at the limited recognition of women’s complex role in this measure.
Consider the impact of pregnancy on the economy and issues prospective mothers face. Although President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the rampant exclusion of pregnant employees wasn’t quelled until President Jimmy Carter signed amendments into law in 1978. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was intended to prevent discrimination in hiring, firing, pay, promotions, training, or benefits. But the problem has persisted, with 5000-6000 discrimination reports still filed annually with the United States Equal Opportunity and Employment Commission.
For those who believe that these problems are in the past, paid maternity leave and medical coverage remain a concern for the 70% of mothers currently active in the workforce. And according to a report from 2017, a mother’s pay hovers around 80 percent of a father’s pay regardless of job title, professional status, or socioeconomic environment—particularly in the first five years of a child’s life.
The direct impact of maternal workforce factors, pay, and time off do not begin to address downstream questions of child care benefits, before and after school programs, and the increasingly heavy cost of extracurricular development for children and families.
As the young women in our society enter the labor market and educational system, they are expected to take complete ownership of their reproductive futures despite environments that limit access. While medication contraception fosters autonomy, rare risks include mood effects, blood clots, high blood pressure or stroke and it is not suitable for all patients. Contraception, whether preventative or emergency, is not without cost, even for victims of sexual assault.
Similarly, these victims and other women struggle to access resources for termination of pregnancies which threaten life or livelihood. The decision to bear children impacts a mother personally, professionally, and economically throughout her life.
Access to maternal and reproductive health care plays an important role in our society. Every Labor Day we should reflect on all the ways our society challenges our laboring mothers—through exclusion or discrimination in the job market, costs of child care and developmental activities, and challenges to accessing contraception.
When I, as an obstetrician-gynecologist, hear "Labor Day," my mind reflects on the days my patients spend laboring, bringing new life into the world, and how this day should reflect joy, choice and security. The reality is that sometimes it brings uncertainty, instability and duress.
Let us take care of our mothers the same way we take care of our laborers: through self-determination, admiration, and a deep appreciation for their contributions to society and the American economy. Let us give them the respect of choosing their own careers, their own families, their own futures over bearing a child. Let us grant them the dignity of making this decision peacefully and privately. Let us focus our attention on supporting the current labor market and the families that rely on it for survival.
Each woman should be at the helm of her own reproductive decision making in order to drive her own professional and economic future, rather than a pawn of lawmakers.
Top photo of Dr. Emily Boevers provided by the author and published with permission.