When she last ran for the Indiana Senate, what I most remember about Sen. Liz Brown is the extent to which she touted her pro-life bona fides.
Her professed commitment to the unborn and to children was highlighted in numerous mailings, by those canvassing in person for her and in the handwritten letter authored by one of her seven children that we received during that last campaign. She touted the importance of her Catholic faith and the sanctity of life.
Imagine my astonishment when I read two recent pieces in this paper about the death blow delivered to Senate Bill 342, the ultimate objective of which was to protect the most vulnerable by attempting to lower Indiana's shamefully high infant and maternal mortality rates. The bill would have mandated employers with 15 or more employees make reasonable, common-sense accommodations for pregnant employees unless such accommodations would constitute an undue hardship on the employer.
Was Brown standing with the unborn and with mothers? No, she wasn't.
Indiana has some of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the nation. Our immediate sister states – and most states – have specific state-level protections requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnancy.
SB 342 would have brought us in line with the vast majority of states in protecting mothers and their unborn children. It was authored by three Republican senators, had bipartisan support, was part of Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb's legislative package and had the support of the state health commissioner.
But the bill faced opposition by well-heeled interests such as the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturers Association – organizations that give Sen. Brown high marks, according to Vote Smart. They claim accommodations for pregnant workers aren't necessary and could lead to greater burdens on small businesses. Whatever dollar figure our legislators place on the lives of babies and their mothers, it apparently wasn't as much as the monetary interests of their corporate backers.
Brown attempted to explain her position by asserting the matter needs more study. More study? Is it not enough that most states – certainly those with much better track records on infant and maternal mortality – already have these protections? Is it really up for serious debate that the physical stress of the workplace is connected to the health of pregnant workers and their babies?
Do Brown and her fellow legislators who have kowtowed to the interests of business on this issue have a comfort level as to how many additional deaths and adverse outcomes are acceptable while they figure out just what, if anything, their backers would accept? If only the dead and premature babies had their own lobbyists stalking the halls of the Statehouse.
This danger to Hoosier babies and their mothers is real, and it is surely a pro-life issue. The next time Brown wishes to don the pro-life mantle, I'd like to know why some babies weren't worth her vote.
James P. Fenton is a Fort Wayne attorney.