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THE SUPREME COURT'S recent ruling that company health plans need not provide benefits for disabilities related to pregnancy marks a serious step backward for women's rights in this country. By deciding (by a six-man majority) that General Electric need not give pregnant employees sick pay, the court lent legitimacy to the idea that motherhood and employment are mutually exclusive.
Six lower courts of appeal and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission had already found G.E.'s plan discriminatory, for it covers illnesses related to voluntary male operations such as vasectomy and hair transplants but not those related to childbirth. It was not on the basis that pregnancy is voluntary that the Supreme Court made its ruling, but on a decision that pregnant women simply do not belong in the labor force.
Equal rights for women in the workplace must begin with a recognition that men and women play different biological roles, and an awareness that their needs--particularly in health care--are very different. If women are to have careers, sick pay for leaves incurred during pregnancy and for complications arising in childbirth must be included in comprehensive medical plans. The Supreme Court decision must be reversed if women are to advance beyond a choice between having a family and holding down a job.
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