Your Wallet is Pro-Choice

Despite Gov. Palin’s lack of knowledge on Supreme Court cases (or possibly because her limp understanding), I’ve become more sensitive to reading the news on it.  On Monday, the Supreme Court announced its annual docket, or all it’s cases for the year. I noticed that one of the cases being decided was on pregnancy discrimination. Some might call this case “Ledbetter II”, as it followed Lilly Ledbetter’s case last year against Goodyear. (Ledbetter lost.)  Both cases involve gender-based wage discrimination.

In the current case of AT&T Corp. v. Hulteen, the Justices have to decide whether or not pregnant employees of AT&T were denied credit for employment time when they left as a result of their pregnancies.  The outcome will have real ramifications on the retirement benefits of women who left the company due to pregnancy before 1979.

Both cases are highly significant to working women, and are admittedly less shiny or aggravating than talking about candidate gaffes or the stock market tanking. But in a year when people are watching women voters closely, these cases are even more relevant. You would think that the second woman to be on a major party ticket – a woman who some claim is a feminist – would mention a case like Ledbetter v. Goodyear. Roe v. Wade was the only Supreme Court case Governor Sarah Palin could name, and that’s because she is for overturning the court decision.

Palin’s position against choice is clearly harmful to women’s privacy and health. It is also anti-woman from an economic point of view, as family planning and higher earnings are linked. Dr. Amalia Miller, an economist at University of Virginia, has studied the effect of wages and motherhood, and found that delaying motherhood significantly increases a woman’s earnings. She writes,

“Motherhood delay leads to a substantial increase in earnings of 10% per year of delay, a smaller increase in wage rates of 3%, and an increase in hours worked of 5%.”

If a new mother leaves the job at a higher wage, she might be more likely to come back to the workforce at that higher wage.  This solves part of the structural problem that keeps women’s wages lower in the workforce. But the ability to delay motherhood is enabled by the right to choose – when to have a child, when to leave the workforce, when to come back, and so on.

One of the largest distinctions between the second wave feminists and our generation of third wave feminists is that we know we can’t have it all. We have seen our mothers struggle and often fail at some aspect of it – whether it was because they didn’t excel professionally, or were not around as much as we (as kids) might have wanted. It’s a dirty secret we don’t talk about, and it’s not a criticism. (Thanks, Mom, for stretching yourself beyond what you thought possible.) I think every mother tried to do her best, and we collectively know that anyone, regardless of gender, has to make very tough choices between balancing health, family, friends and work. This understanding of a balanced life underscores the need to build a strong connection between a woman’s right to privately choose motherhood (if at all), and economic strength.  

I think some of us already see this connection. Which might be why Sarah Palin and an anonymous email helped the Planned Parenthood Action Fund raise almost $1 million dollars in less than a month.


  1. 1 A Pretty Mess » Blog Archive » Prozac, Mad Men, and the beauty of choices

    […] election is never far from our minds these days, I’d be remiss in not highlighting this recent post that highlights another thing modern mothers can be thankful for, but not if McCain-Palin win in […]

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