- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

Sistagirls, yes, indeedy, we've "come a long way, baby," as the cigarette commercial stated, to celebrate women's liberation. But having a baby ain't changed a bit since the beginning of time.
You can fight a paternalistic society, but you can't fight Mother Nature. A female is still a female. So why are some trying to fight a system that doesn't want them running into burning buildings with a baby growing in their belly?
Sorry, I can't get with the young Sistagirls who are taking issue with the pregnancy policy the District's public-safety departments have had in place for years.
It makes common sense for the common good.
Sadly, several recruits in the D.C. fire department recently admitted that they had abortions because it was their misunderstanding that they must have the procedure or risk not being hired or being fired.
From my reading of the official letters and the officials' stated intent of the pregnancy policy, I find no statement that even implies that you cannot be employed by the D.C. police or fire departments if you are pregnant or get pregnant.
What the letters issued for "conditional" employment to potential police officers, firefighters and paramedics do clearly state is that your application, "subject to your passing the medical and psychological examinations and a thorough background investigation," will be "held in abeyance" until such time as you can reapply for the position if a "temporary disability, such as broken bones, pregnancy, infections, etc." exists.
The police department's letter states these requirements are necessary so it can determine the recruit's "physical and mental suitability to handle the rigors of police work."
The fire department's letter states the conditions are based on "your ability to perform the tasks, duties and responsibilities required" of the position.
Further, both public-safety departments assert that "if you are rejected for employment as a result of any of the above examinations, you will be advised of the rights available to you."
Fair enough warning. No matter what crazy comment someone utters or threatens, here you have it plain and simple, in black and white. The time to complain is before, not after, a perceived violation.
Which brings me to the claim that Samantha Robinson, interim assitant chief of operations for the fire department's Emergency Medical Services (EMS), supposedly told a 21-year-old rookie, reportedly "a devout Catholic," that she must get an abortion if she wanted to remain with the fire department.
Though Ms. Robinson denies the charge, if such harassment is found to be the case, she should have known better and she should be fired not only for unnecessary intimidation, but primarily for breaking federal and local anti-discrimination laws.
Fire Chief Ronnie Few and others must be diligent in his investigation into this matter.
Still, no one was forced to do anything in this regretful situation. Even if this supervisor is found wrong, no woman has to choose between keeping a job and keeping a baby in 2001.
In the end, it's every Sistagirl for herself.
The only thing she must do is live with the consequences of her very personal and very private decision.
Decades ago, when I became pregnant with my second child, I was forced to quit my job as a bank teller without any chance of reinstatement. Maternity leave was nonexistent. There were no laws to protect pregnant women then as there are now.
Let's be real.
A pregnant woman puts herself, her unborn child and the public at risk in those heavy-duty, stressful, life-threatening emergencies that are integral parts of the jobs in question here. And, the most important rule for any public-safety professional is to secure their own safety first before attempting to rescue another from danger.
Just as a quick refresher: Remember that the women's liberation movement was, and still is, about choice. It's about self-determination and human dignity. It's about equity.
As it turns out, that movement not only helped women break barriers to pursue their personal goals, but it freed men as well. This culture shift was a good thing for all.
Most "womanists" I know who protest for parity never want to emulate men. We are women who celebrate every aspect of our womenhood and humanity and demand to be treated equal to men. Big difference.
I marched for equality for women in jobs, in pay, in sports and most of all, in personal relationships alongside the best of the '70s bra-burners. Women didn't get the Equal Rights Amendment, but we did win major changes in the Title VII civil rights code, which bars discrimination against women.
Young women do all kinds of things today that women in my generation once considered novel, if not impossible. In fact, one of the first series of feature stories I wrote as a cub reporter highlighted women who were "firsts" in their fields. That was "back in the day" when a female police officer or female firefigher was an anomaly.
We have come a long way, baby, but we can't go too far from reality. Being pregnant is no picnic. You are not at your personal best. Somedays, it takes all you have inside you just to get out of bed, let alone try to carry a 200-plus person lying on a sick bed.
If any action needs to be taken by city officials about their long-standing printed pregnancy policy, it's to review the language to make sure it passes legal muster in the light of this most recent challenge — and reissue the policy to managers and employees so that all are clear about its equitable application.


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