Other Free Encyclopedias » Law Library - American Law and Legal Information » Free Legal Encyclopedia: Ex proprio motu (ex mero motu) to File » Fetal Rights - Forced Cesarean Sections, Drug Use By The Mother, Fetal Protection Policies, Willow Island, West Virginia, Women Paid The Price Of Fetal Protection Policies

Fetal Rights - Willow Island, West Virginia, Women Paid The Price Of Fetal Protection Policies

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The 1991 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared fetal protection policies to be a violation of CIVIL RIGHTS laws came too late for five women from West Virginia who were forced by their employer to choose between undergoing a sterilization procedure to avoid health risks associated with their higher paying jobs, remaining fertile but moving to lower paying jobs, or quitting their jobs altogether (International Union, UAW v. Johnson Controls, Inc., 499 U.S. 187, 111 S. Ct. 1196, 113 L. Ed. 2d 158 [1991]). The women worked at an American Cyanamid factory in Willow Island, a poor region where decent-paying jobs were scarce. They were all among the first women to work in these factories, which, before 1974, had employed only men.

In 1978 the company introduced a policy that no fertile women would be allowed to work in its lead pigments department. The company claimed that hazardous chemicals in that department might harm women's reproductive system. Fertile women under age 50 would have to be sterilized or take jobs in other areas of the company, virtually all of which paid less. Men, whose reproductive system might also be damaged by lead, were not subject to restrictions.

The seven women then employed in the lead pigments department found themselves facing an agonizing choice: whether to reduce or sacrifice their income or undergo a surgical procedure that would render them unable to bear children. Five of the women chose sterilization.

The LABOR UNION to which the women belonged eventually took the women's case to court, claiming that the company's fetal protection policy represented a violation of federal occupational safety standards because it required an individual to be sterilized in order to be eligible for work. The union lost the case in the federal appeals court (Oil, Chemical, & Atomic Workers International Union v. American Cyanamid Co., 741 F.2d 444 [D.C. Cir. 1984]). However in the 1991 Supreme Court ruling, this decision was reversed.

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