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In many parts of the world, a hundred years ago, women didn’t have the right to vote or had only recently acquired it. Huge progress has been made for women’s rights over the past century, in large part thanks to the tireless efforts of generations of feminists and women’s rights activists. It’s easy to forget this. But perhaps it’s also easy to look back on the ‘bad old days’, and think feminism’s job is done, or that there is no need for feminism any more.

This is certainly not the case. It’s important that we acknowledge this so that we can continue to build a more just society, and this is especially true for pro-lifers who want to create a just and equal society that fosters a culture of life. A genuine culture of life supports and respects it. A genuinely pro-life society does not just ask women to choose life, or demand that they do, and leave it at that. A pro-life society is one that also chooses life: in its welfare system, in its attitudes towards pregnancy, and towards women who are pregnant, in its attitudes towards children, families, poverty, disability, and in the practical support it guarantees or offers all these people. In order for a society to meaningfully choose life, it must respect the aspirations, dreams and goals of women who are pregnant. It must not do the opposite of that and discriminate against women because they are pregnant. 

Our culture still does this, as can be seen from a story that made the news recently. The Workplace Relations Commission recently found Zahra Publishing Ltd. to have breached the Employment Equality Act 1998 in 2021 when they dismissed an employee four months after she told the company that she was pregnant. The Irish Times reports that 

In his decision, published by the WRC this morning, adjudicating officer Hugh Lonsdale quoted case law stating that the burden of proof in a maternity protection case fell on an employer to show that any adverse treatment was “in no sense related to her pregnancy”.

He said the evidence was that Ms Varian had notified the CEO of the company that she was pregnant on August 5th, 2021, and that a first “performance issue” was raised on September 21st that year.

He noted the evidence of the other former sales executive, who had stated that her probationary period had been extended despite having cleared a lesser volume of sales.

“It is my conclusion that the complainant would have had her probationary period extended if she had not been going on maternity leave; this would have been an opportunity to convert some of the business in the pipeline and develop new business in the new year,” Mr Lonsdale wrote.

Upholding the discrimination claim on the grounds of gender, he ordered the company to pay Ms Varian €32,500 in compensation, a sum he wrote was equivalent to six months’ salary.

(See here for the Irish Examiner story.)  Ironically, Zahra publishes Easy Food magazine and the everymum.ie website which aims to connect, inform, and support mothers in Ireland. As always, there is a difference between talking about doing this, and actually doing it when it might seem slightly inconvenient. This is not the only case of pregnancy discrimination that has been brought to the WRC in recent years (see this one for example). And such cases make you wonder how many other women were discriminated against by their employers in similar ways without ever making any official complaints. 

Our neighbours in the UK might be able to give us some indication of the potential scale of the problem. In 2015, the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 54,000 pregnant women are forced out of their jobs each year – about one in nine working pregnant women. Recently, Pregnant Then Screwed have claimed that – in that country at least – the pandemic has “surge of discrimination against pregnant women and mothers at work.” 

Irish society is not hospitable to life – as a result of our abortion laws, but also in other respects, for example, the way in which pregnant women can still be treated in our workplaces.