cover image Fetal Rights, Women's Rights: Gender Equality in the Workplace

Fetal Rights, Women's Rights: Gender Equality in the Workplace

Suzanne Samuels. University of Wisconsin Press, $13.95 (248pp) ISBN 978-0-299-14544-6

Some writings on sensitive issues are easy to dismiss because of their stridency and polemical nature, but the trick is to hear the message through the noise. Samuels's work is no exception, for the author presents an academic harangue with some merit: that women's employment rights are eroded by policies protecting the fetus from occupational hazards. That is, when women are prohibited from certain jobs because the health or safety of their fetuses would be endangered, it reinforces sex segregation in employment. Fetal protection policies may appear as ``benign measures... to eliminate fetal exposure to occupational toxins,' but in actuality they ``undermine [women's] ability to compete effectively in the marketplace.'' Even though Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars sex-based discrimination, and the Supreme Court has ruled that fetal protection policies violate this act, nevertheless the practice continues, supported by lower-court decisions that grant the fetus special protection. Such case law only serves to keep women in their childbearing role. Although Samuels's argument is generally convincing, it would have benefited greatly from a discussion of who is responsible for children damaged in utero by exposure to lead, mercury, arsenic or carbon monoxide and to what extent society should pick up the tab. (June)