It seems that discussing the state of a woman’s uterus in politics and workplace affairs is becoming more and more common in our day and age. The problem isn’t just a pregnancy issue anymore. Instead, society is broadening its focus to all aspects of a woman being with child, including the circumstances of fertilization and the marital status of these women.
The issue of pregnancy and work has grabbed our attention once again with a string of firings due to pregnancy out of wedlock. The most recent of these cases concerns Cathy Samford, a Texas schoolteacher who was fired by her private Christian school for being pregnant and unmarried.
Samford’s and other recent firings seem absolutely ridiculous to me. The school’s headmaster justified his decision to the media by saying that his teachers are expected to be ministers of the Christian faith and are expected to set good examples. Samford’s reasoning was that she set a perfectly good example as she was planning on getting married soon and wasn’t simply a knocked-up single mom.
I think such excuses on Samford’s part are avoiding the real point. Is it ever OK to fire someone for being pregnant, whatever her marital status? Samford’s lawyer Colin Walsh mentions this very idea when he points out that the firing is in violation of anti-discrimination laws. A woman cannot be fired preemptively for being pregnant and it should not matter whether she works at a private Christian school or a public school.
If the excuse of a Christian private school constituting a special circumstance is allowed to pass, what is preventing other schools and institutions from using the Christian excuse to bypass other anti-discrimination laws? Even private institutions must be held to some sort of standard to preserve fairness lest our equality laws become completely useless.
This case points out another problem that permeates our society: general discrimination against women and their bodies. Single mothers specifically deal with a great deal of prejudice. Things are hard enough for women who must support their children on a single income without job discrimination coming into play as well.
Samford’s defense that she was soon getting married does nothing to improve the negative opinions toward women who choose to raise a child alone for perfectly legitimate reasons. This reasoning still leaves single mothers without fiances open to attack.
Not only should pregnant women be protected by anti-discrimination laws in all public and private fields, but a woman’s marital status and number of children should not be a factor either. If she can do her job properly, there should be no reason to fire a woman who is pregnant out of wedlock.
It is clear that Samford’s firing was due to religious reasons and not because she was performing poorly in her job as a teacher. It is also doubtful that any male teachers in the near future will be fired from religious schools because they impregnated a woman out of wedlock. Gender discrimination hides behind the guise of religious principle in this case, and the school needs to stop hiding behind its "bad example" excuse.
If this religious institution wants to fire Samford because her pregnancy makes administrators uncomfortable, they should confess their real feelings of prejudice instead of trying to use Jesus and God as a justifier. They may also want to take another look at their own religious texts as well. Maybe they’ve forgotten that the Virgin Mary was, like Samford, unmarried when she was impregnated with Jesus. I guess it’s different when it’s the Holy Spirit instead of a penis.
Kate Haddock is a sophomore in English. Please send comments to [email protected]