State Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) is one of two state lawmakers to introducing a bill requiring employers to give pregnant workers reasonable accommodations. She says shes maybe one of two legislators in the last 20 years to have a baby while in office.
State Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) is one of two state lawmakers introducing a bill requiring employers to give pregnant workers "reasonable accommodations." She says she's "maybe one of two legislators in the last 20 years" to have a baby while in office. HG

With less than a month until the Washington State Legislature reconvenes in Olympia, women's advocates are rounding up support for two key bills.

On Tuesday, two state lawmakers—with support from NARAL Pro-Choice Washington—announced a bill requiring employers to give women "reasonable accommodations" during pregnancy. (Today, women are protected from discrimination based on pregnancy but advocates say such discrimination can be hard to prove. They want pregnant women to be granted additional, explicit rights to accommodations—the way, for example, people with disabilities are granted explicit rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.)

Meanwhile, NARAL representatives say they've also found a state lawmaker to sponsor a bill requiring insurance companies to cover one year of birth control at a time. (Currently, there's no requirement for how many months of contraceptives private insurance companies must provide, according to NARAL.)

On pregnancy accommodations, Seattle Rep. Jessyn Farrell and Kent Sen. Karen Keiser, both Democrats, will introduce two companion bills. The bills would require employers to give pregnant workers things like more frequent access to water, snacks, rest, and bathroom breaks and scheduling flexibility to attend pre-natal doctor's appointments if the workers requested those accommodations. While those basic needs can be easy to secure for some office workers, it can be harder for women working on low-wage jobs that require heavy lifting or lots of time of their feet.

"Most often, the kinds of accommodations women need are minor," said Ying Zhang, a family physician at Harborview Medical Center who spoke at the announcement of the bills. But, Zhang said, even small accommodations can help prevent complications in pregnancy. "No woman should have to choose between following her doctor's advice and keeping her job."

Current law protects workers from discrimination based on pregnancy, but Legal Voice lawyer Janet Chung said current laws can be confusing to workers and discrimination can be difficult to prove. Data from the National Partnership for Women and Families shows that while most pregnant workers report needing some kind of minor accommodations to continue working, many were too afraid to ask for them. On the question of needing more frequent breaks, for example, 71 percent of women surveyed said they needed that accommodation but 42 percent never asked for it. Some who did ask were denied. According to the organization's data, the lack of access to those kinds of accommodations falls especially hard on women in low-wage jobs, women of color, and women without a college education.

NARAL lobbyist Melanie Smith told The Stranger that because many legislators associate work with office jobs, rather than blue collar work, "The biggest challenge [to get the bill passed] is getting them to understand low-income work and the lack of power there," which can result in women being denied accommodations or being afraid to ask for them.

The second effort, a requirement that private insurance providers cover at least 12 months of birth control at once, comes after Oregon's legislature approved a similar measure this year.

Supporters of such a requirement argue that improving access to birth control is important for rural and poor women. They also argue that better access to birth control decreases unplanned pregnancies and can cut therefore cut costs for those insurance providers who cover abortions. (Plus, you know, women should just be in charge of their own fucking healthcare, right?)

The 12-month requirement was part of last year's Reproductive Health Act in Washington state, which passed out of the Democratically controlled state house but never got a hearing in the Republican-controlled state senate. This year, NARAL and others have carved the contraceptive requirement out of that more comprehensive act to try to pass it on its own. Smith said Everett Democrat Rep. June Robinson plans to sponsor a version of the bill in the upcoming session.

The Washington State Legislature convenes on January 11.