By DANIELLE WOODWARD
Capital News Service
LANSING — Employers couldn’t discriminate against employees who use birth control or have had abortions under a new bill recently introduced by lawmakers.
“It is mainly to protect women from discrimination and questioning from employers on whether or not they use birth control or have had an abortion,” said Rep. Marcie Hovey-Wright, D-Muskegon, who is the primary sponsor of the bill.
The bill is pushed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“It is really based on the recent controversy over employees who don’t want to cover birth control in their insurance plans,” said Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for the group. “That gave rise towards companies acting discriminatory towards females that have taken birth control or who have had an abortion.”
Those are questions asked of women but not of men, she said.
No cases of women being fired have been reported yet, and the legislation is mostly preventative, Weisberg said. However, more women have been coming forward saying they feel discriminated against when they ask their employer if their insurance still covers birth control.
“Before this started to become controversial, women workers did not think twice about their birth control being covered because in the past it always has been,” Weisberg said.
A similar bill was approved by New York state lawmakers.
Some people think the legislation is unnecessary.
“I don’t see a need for the bill,” said Ed Rivet, public relations officer for Right to Life Michigan. “I think it’s a solution in search of a problem and I have never even heard of employees asking these kinds of questions.”
The legislation is based on a series of complaints received by the American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan, Weisberg said. Discussing personal health information with employers should not be required.
“Discrimination happens against women,” Hovey-Wright said. “They are asked about reproductive decisions and men are not. It affects whether or not someone is employed.”
Under the bill, an employee who feels they have been discriminated against could sue their employer.
The legislation would go under the same category as current law that prohibits employers to ask personal questions not relevant to the job such as marriage status or religion, Weisberg said.
“Currently an employer can ask an employee any of these questions regarding their reproductive choices,” Hovey-Wright said. “This is private information that is not relevant to employment.”
The Progressive Democratic Women’s Caucus of Muskegon, an organization that encourages women to engage in political process and run for office, supports this legislation. The group says it has heard similar complaints from women employees.
“Women are denied their divinely given rights as humans when they are denied rights to reproductive care, said Nana’ Kratochvil, president of the organization. “A law like this would equalize the playing field in the workplace and gives women a better chance to succeed.”
By DANIELLE WOODWARD