Tammy Duckworth’s Pregnancy Could Change Senate Rules

Trailblazing Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth recently announced her pregnancy, which will make her the first senator to give birth while in office – though hopefully not on the Senate floor. And that’s the problem: The Senate doesn’t have a very good system in place for handling parental leave.

Even as Duckworth prepares for the birth of her second child, she may also have to work on making some changes to Senate rules.

For those who aren’t longtime Duckworth fans like yours truly, this Thai American senator served in the Iraq War as a helicopter pilot, where she sustained a combat injury that led to a double amputation. You may see her getting around on her prosthetic legs or a wheelchair, and she’s also a wheelchair athlete.

Before entering the Senate, Duckworth was a representative, and prior to that, she worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs. She’s a longtime champion on military issues, disability rights and gender equality.

Duckworth has also been very open about her difficulties conceiving and her experience with miscarriage. Her frankness about topics that often remain taboo is paired with an interest in improving access to parental leave, childcare and other supports for parents of all genders.

So here’s the problem: Duckworth understandably needs some time off to prepare for the birth, have her baby and bond with her family. She intends to take 12 weeks of paid leave, but Duckworth also wants to ensure that she can continue to participate in the conduct of business — including sponsoring legislation and voting.

And if you take a parental leave, you’re not allowed to do that. It’s not uncommon for members of the Senate to spend time away for medical issues, as Senator John McCain has done to treat his brain cancer, but the question of how to handle Duckworth’s maternal leave has proven to be challenging.

Especially since when she comes back to work, the issues don’t stop. Children aren’t allowed on the Senate floor, which means Duckworth would have to step out for breastfeeding sessions, and she couldn’t spend time with her child while on the job.

Australian Senator Larissa Waters breastfed her children in parliament last year, proving it’s possible to do so without causing a complete government breakdown. Other legislators around the world have brought their babies onto the floor during conduct of business as well.

Duckworth is coordinating with the Democrats to explore options that will allow her to take the time she needs while still remaining an important part of the caucus; with such slim margins on many key votes, the Democrats can’t afford to be one vote down. Currently, Duckworth plans to take her leave in Washington, so she’ll be available for votes when necessary — but it may take some finessing.

This isn’t just about Duckworth’s desire to serve the party. It involves a larger conversation about working mothers everywhere and their ability to achieve a feasible work/life balance. If Duckworth’s pregnancy leads to some changes in Senate rules, it could prompt people across the country to engage in critical conversations about parental leave and working with young children.

Photo credit: COD Newsroom

78 comments

Paulo R
Paulo Reeson2 months ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson2 months ago

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson2 months ago

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson2 months ago

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson3 months ago

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson3 months ago

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Maria R
Maria P3 months ago

Thank you

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson3 months ago

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pam w
pam w3 months ago

I wish her well! She deserves a happy, productive life, especially after her sacrifice for the U.S!

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Janis K
Janis K3 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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