Sen. Tammy Duckworth made history when she became the first disabled woman to win a U.S. Senate election and the first Asian-American woman from Illinois to be elected to Congress. When she announced her pregnancy Tuesday, she set a new milestone into motion: She could become the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office.
Certainly, Duckworth deserves our celebration and our congratulations. But the historic nature of her pregnancy is also a stark reminder of the dismal representation women have won in U.S. politics in the last century—and the constraints all working women face.
Congress is currently 80 percent male, and roughly 75 percent of all state legislators across the country are male. Since the first woman was elected to Congress in 1916, the body has never been more than 19.4 percent female. It should come as no surprise that Duckworth would be the first lawmaker in the Capitol to give birth while in office—she is, after all, one of only 327 women to serve in Congress ever.
Women bring vital perspectives and experiences to the public arena, and in a political climate where women’s issues and issues of reproductive and maternal health too often fall to the wayside, it is critical that more people who can get pregnant hold public office. Their presence in politics is more likely to spur legislation addressing the unique needs of pregnant women and mothers—a community in immediate need of such progress.
I'm thrilled to hear that @SenDuckworth is expecting her second child. Her ability to meet the demands of work and family is inspiring. As a country, we need to do more to help all mothers do the same.
— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) January 24, 2018
In workplaces across the country, female employees fear how pregnancy and motherhood could jeopardize their job security. Working women face myriad challenges in becoming parents: Employers may discriminate against them should they start families; their employer-provided healthcare may not be adequate to cover the medical bills pregnancy incurs; and they may not receive enough paid maternity leave to keep their households afloat after they deliver. (Never mind all the puzzles that comes next, including how working mothers cover the rising costs of childcare and whether they’ll be able to take paid leave when the baby gets sick.)
Duckworth’s pregnancy is good news not only for her family, but also for all women—as it marks the beginning of a critical dialogue about the need for more women in politics, and for better conditions for all pregnant working women.