- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2001

The D.C. Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services is in all kinds of hot water for disqualifying its pregnant female applicants. The stricture, it should go without saying, would have been considered unobjectionable and entirely reasonable not too very long ago. After all, it's hard enough for the average woman to lift and carry, say, a 200-pound man from a burning building. But a pregnant woman? And what of the risk to her unborn child even assuming she is an unusually superb physical specimen capable of lifting and carrying a 200-pound man?
Well, these facts of life of being female and in a family way, it seems, should not be taken into account not even when the lives of others might be at stake not even the life of an unborn child. Experts say fire and emergency medical officials were in error when they sent letters to female applicants informing them that they would have to undergo pregnancy tests as a condition of employment and that, if they came back positive, any offer of employment would be "held in abeyance" until after the birth of the child.
This common-sense policy has resulted in legal action being initiated against the city by at least three young women, including two who have claimed that they had abortions as a result of the policy. But, according to Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, people who work for you and people who want to work for you can be treated differently. Still, the city will review the policy.
Meanwhile, it has come to light that the District's Metropolitan Police Department has a similar policy and employment law experts have voiced their opinion that all of this is nefariously, horribly discriminatory. There is even a law on the books specifically covering this issue the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
The experts are probably quite right as a matter of law. But, as a matter of common sense, well that's another kettle of kippers entirely. Indeed, the crucial distinction to be made here is that these public safety agencies are not excluding categories of people for irrational, arbitrary or mean-spirited reasons. Rather, the policies are simply a common-sense means of making sure that people about to embark upon unusually dangerous and physically demanding jobs are capable of doing those jobs without putting themselves or others at risk.


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