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By Noreen Farrell, Equal Rights Advocates, and Beth McGovern, California Commission on the Status of Women

California is often a national leader in legislation for working families and the Golden State did not disappoint Thursday with passage of Senate Bill 299.

California women workers and their families caught a break when Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law yesterday that requires employers continue to provide health coverage for women on pregnancy or childbirth-related leave. It’s the kind of commonsense law you might have guessed was already in place.

SB 299, authored by Senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), closes a gap in the law that put pregnant women and new mothers at risk of losing insurance coverage at the time they need it most. Our organizations -- Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) and California Commission on the Status of Women -- were bill sponsors. We advocated for it along with the California Work & Family Coalition. The law, which will take effect in 2012, has far-reaching benefits, as an estimated 50 percent of California’s workforce does not have guaranteed health care coverage when on leave.

We got involved after hearing from many women, including Julia, a working mom who was eight months pregnant when her employer informed her that her health insurance coverage would be dropped during her pregnancy leave. Lack of health insurance coverage exposed Julia and her baby to medical risks, fiscal ruin, and extreme anxiety at a time when she needed care the most.

We believe pregnant workers shouldn’t have to choose between medical leaves and health care benefits. It’s more than time that our country wakes up to the facts:

  • Working women make up nearly half of the American workforce.
  • Three in four women entering today's workforce will become pregnant at least once while employed and generally stay in the workforce.
  • Women need access to affordable pregnancy leave so that they can take time off before and after birth without losing pay and important benefits such as health insurance coverage. It is well-documented that lack of pregnancy leave impacts the health of mothers and newborn children.
  • When forced to pay out-of-pocket costs for health coverage, many women delay or cut short their leave. Indeed, almost four in five workers report being unable to take leave because they could not afford it.

It’s a bipartisan issue that legislators nationwide could proudly get behind.  On behalf of working mothers, we tip our hat in thanks to Governor Brown and the California legislators that have led the way.

Noreen Farrell is the Managing Attorney of Equal Rights Advocates & Beth McGovern is the Legislative Director of the California Commission on the Status of Women. An earlier version of this article originally appeared on Calitics.


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