Unsexing Pregnancy

60 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2019

See all articles by David Fontana

David Fontana

George Washington University Law School

Naomi Schoenbaum

George Washington University Law School

Date Written: March 11, 2019

Abstract

Because sex does not dictate the capacity to provide care in the home or work in the market, sex-equality law combats harmful sex stereotypes by eliminating statutes and regulations that assign these roles on the basis of sex. When it comes to pregnancy, though, courts and commentators alike chart a very different course. They assume that pregnancy is a biological event that is almost exclusively for women. Thus, equal protection jurisprudence accepts the legal assignment of carework during pregnancy to women, and a range of laws regulating pregnancy carework — from prenatal leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to health benefits under the Affordable Care Act to employment protections under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act — apply only or mostly to women. Even though the sexed law of pregnancy stands in stark contrast to the unsexed law of parenting, the sexed pregnancy has avoided challenge and largely escaped notice.

This Article makes visible the law of the sexed pregnancy, identifies and evaluates the core tension it generates in the law of sex equality, and considers how to unravel this tension. Of course, typically only women can physically carry a child, and therefore some pregnancy regulations are appropriately sex specific. But the nine months of pregnancy encompass a range of carework, much of which has little or nothing to do with the physical fact of pregnancy. Expectant fathers can, for example, buy a carseat, quit smoking, take a childcare class, and choose a pediatrician or daycare center for the child. Given the ability to disaggregate sex from much of the carework of pregnancy, the law’s failure to do so marks women for caregiving and men for breadwinning in the same problematic way that sex-equality law has tried to combat after a child is born. And while pregnancy implicates real concerns about a woman’s constitutional right to bodily autonomy, this concern alone cannot justify the failure to scrutinize all sex-based pregnancy regulations, because much prebirth carework does not involve the woman’s body at all. After surfacing the law’s anomalous sexed treatment of pregnancy, this Article considers how to harmonize the law of sex equality. This effort can advance not only the goal of equality between the sexes, but also equality for lesbian, gay, and transgender parents, while at the same time enhancing women’s autonomy.

Suggested Citation

Fontana, David and Schoenbaum, Naomi, Unsexing Pregnancy (March 11, 2019). Columbia Law Review, Vol. 119, 2019. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3350592

David Fontana (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

2000 H Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-0577 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.gwu.edu/Faculty/profile.aspx?id=9950

Naomi Schoenbaum

George Washington University Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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