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Should Paid Maternity Leave Be Mandated By The Government?

I don't think so - and I'm pregnant with my first child and facing unpaid maternity leave.

(Image source: Shutterstock)

I’ve never been particularly adept at coming up with gift ideas for my husband.

Don’t get me wrong, I love doing it—and I eventually do find them. I’m simply just not the most proficient fountain of great gift ideas; at least not right off the bat. I tend to take a while.

For this past wedding anniversary, however, I had a good one. A darn good one.

It just so happened that the news that I was pregnant with our first child roughly coincided with the date of our anniversary, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled at the prospect of weaving that little nugget into his gift.

Of course, he was over the moon. And in the Ramirez family history archives, that announcement will definitely go down as one of the most special moments of our lives.

A 60-year-old woman was evaluated for abdominal pain and further scans revealed that she retained an ectopic pregnancy for 36 years. The mass was surgically removed and she is recovering. (Image source: Shutterstock) (Image source: Shutterstock) 

After the initial excitement settled down, we began getting down to brass tacks: how much would we need to save? What would we need to buy? Where will we send our child to daycare? The list goes on.

I was familiar with my company’s maternity leave policy even before I became pregnant, but there’s a big difference between just “knowing” that I’d only get six weeks of paid maternity leave, and actually figuring out how I’d pay for the other six weeks—if I wanted the full 12 weeks of time off guaranteed to me.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not complaining. Sure, 12 PAID weeks would be ideal, but six is decidedly better than nothing.

After all, some women get nothing. Yes, per the Family and Medical Leave Act, they’re guaranteed 12 weeks of maternity leave (with some restrictions, based on time at the company), but indeed, many are not paid for the time off.

Recently an article by The New Republic’s Rebecca Traister entitled “Labor Pains” caught my attention—especially in light of the president’s recent executive order guaranteeing six weeks of paid maternity leave to federal workers.

In the article, she describes the plight of most pregnant working women—that is, they must balance both the difficulties of pregnancy itself, and mitigate the financial (and potentially career damaging) effects of taking time to recover and be with their baby.

“The United States and its corporate structures were built with one kind of worker—frankly, with one kind of citizen—in mind. That citizen wage earner was a white man,” she writes.

The unrelated insertion of race aside, she makes a somewhat valid point. Indeed, up until the past few decades, women simply didn’t join the workforce at the same rate as their male counterparts—and thus employers weren’t faced with pregnancy at the rate they are today.

Traister also makes it clear that she believes the federal government hasn’t done enough about it:

But until we see a large-scale, national refashioning of family leave, the economic fates of childbearers [sic] will be left in the hands of the private entities that employ them.

To be certain, for many women who do not have the luxury of paid maternity leave, it can be incredibly tough.

Mobley Alexander Dutton is held by his father Matthew Dutton in the neonatal intensive care unit at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. Mobley, an 8 pound 7 ounce boy, was born to Matthew and Maria Dutton at 33 minutes into 2013, making him Chattanooga's first newborn of the year. The 21-inch infant is the Hixson couple's first child, and was treated for a small amount of fluid in his lungs after birth but is expected to leave the NICU soon. Credit: AP Credit: AP 

So, here’s the big question:

Is it government’s responsibility to ensure that every American woman receive paid maternity leave?

Absolutely not.

(And in case you’ve forgotten—yes, I am currently pregnant with my very first child, in a family situation that necessitates two incomes. )

Just hear me out.

Should paid maternity leave be part of a moral, family-centered, upstanding society?

Absolutely.

Now let’s break it down.

Feminism tells us that there should be no difference between the male and the female in the workplace, right? That, for all intents and purposes, the male and the female worker are to be viewed as two identical units. (And in terms of ability to do work, they should be viewed as such!)

Yet pregnancy forces even the most progressive feminist to look at herself as different; as uniquely capable of doing something that her male counterparts simply cannot—and as such, deserving of a special benefit.

Suddenly, in a world where the act of ending a pregnancy through abortion is commonly considered one’s “choice,” pregnancy itself isn’t always looked at in the same way.

Did you ever stop to think about that for a moment? With certain tragic exceptions like rape, pregnancy is entirely a choice. And even if prevention methods failed, you still engaged in the potentially child-producing activity, didn’t you? That’s a choice.

In the same vein, a career is also a choice. The fact that circumstances in life don’t always make it easy for a woman to have both a career and be a mother does not, as unfair as it sounds, automatically mean that a person deserves guaranteed compensation. In my case, it’s not my company’s fault that I chose to start a family while employed by an entity that only offers partially paid maternity leave. That was my decision. It’s a free country.

You see, when the concept of personal choice plays a muted role in the discussion about pregnancy and subsequent maternity leave, it’s an understandable conclusion that a woman automatically has a right to paid maternity leave.

Still, while pregnancy is “technically” a choice... it’s not exactly like deciding to get a nose job or a tattoo. After all, not only is a child a precious gift, but family is the building block of society.

And it’s something that—in a world of flippant disregard for human life—we certainly ought to encourage.

Which, incidentally, brings me to my next point— a maternity leave approach that doesn’t harm the financial situation of a family SHOULD be part of upstanding society.

Indeed, we know ours is not always a very upstanding world. Still, employers should care about the well-being of their employees, if for no other reason than it promotes a happier workforce—which fosters a more productive workforce.

After all, if a company wants to keep their employees happy, and attract new ones in the process, they should be seeking ways to accommodate pregnancy. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s just smart business. Companies acting on this, like Google, are reaping the benefits. After Google adopted an incredibly generous maternity leave policy, “the rate at which new mothers left the company fell by 50 percent.”

So yes, paid maternity leave is a very good thing.

But can a federal government mandate really fix the problem? Or, does it pave the way for more problems than it solves?

For example:

What about the small companies that can’t afford to give their employees paid maternity leave like Google can? Would the already burdened taxpayer eventually be on the hook for funding yet another subsidy to fill the gap?

If the federal government could mandate six weeks of paid maternity leave, what’s to say they couldn’t mandate 12? Or 24? How about a year of maternity leave? (It does exist—in at least eight countries around the world.)

Moreover, if paid maternity leave is mandated, couldn’t “paid pregnancy leave” hypothetically be mandated? Why couldn’t the government, like certain Asian nations, mandate paid menstrual leave for women every month?

It’s a Pandora’s box.

There’s a difference between ensuring that a company does not discriminate against pregnant women (i.e. firing one just because she’s pregnant or had a child) . . . and guaranteeing that a woman be paid for the time she’s not working. After all, your employer is not a charitable organization.

The sweet spot (one that helps to preserve our nation’s precious freedom) is allowing the company to make that choice.

Do companies take advantage of the fact that they don’t technically have to pay for a woman’s maternity leave, and behave stingily? Of course.

And do we really think inserting the federal government and its unique brand of corruption into the mix is the solution? I don't think so.

When are we going to stop turning to government to solve our every ill—and instead turn to ourselves and to our business leaders to start making these advances? There are plenty of examples in the private sector to prove it can be done … and plenty of examples of federal mandates gone deeply awry.

Aren’t we bright enough to perpetuate a better approach to maternity leave on our own?

Mary Ramirez is a full-time writer, creator of www.afuturefree.com (a political commentary blog), and contributor to The Chris Salcedo Show (TheBlaze Radio Network, Saturday, from noon to 3pm ET). She can be reached at: afuturefree@aol.com; or on Twitter: @AFutureFree.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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