tammy duckworth, senator, birth, mother, rules, politics

Sen. Tammy Duckworth Made History Giving Birth While in Office, But the Senate Rules Are Predictably Awful for New Mothers

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Last week, Sen. Tammy Duckworth made history by becoming the first U.S. Senator to give birth while serving in office. However, now that she’s welcomed her second daughter, Maile, she’s having to face a whole other set of obstacles–those that face working mothers across the country.

The United States is generally terrible when it comes to providing resources for parents. The lack of paid parental leave, combined with an overwhelming lack of access to child care, means parents–especially mothers–of infants and young children struggle to continue working after giving birth. In that way, the U.S. Senate is no different from most American places of business.

Last month, Senator Duckworth talked to CNN about the rules that would affect her ability to do her job once she gave birth. She told Christiane Amanpour, “For me to find out that there are issues with the United States Senate’s rules where I may not be able to vote or bring my child on to the floor of the Senate when I need to vote because we ban children from the floor, I thought, ‘Wow, I feel like I’m living in the 19th century instead of the 21st, and we need to make some of these changes.”

Senators are required to be present to vote, but they’re also not permitted to bring their children onto the Senate floor. The U.S. Senate also doesn’t have a paid parental leave program.

Sen. Duckworth is calling for an adjustment to those rules to allow new parents to bring their children onto the Senate floor. Sure, there will be some people who say the rules shouldn’t be bent because they see Duckworth and other women as asking for “special treatment.” (We don’t know if those people include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as he has yet to comment on the proposal.) But these rules should never have existed in the first place. They’re a relic of an antiquated all-male government, just as the similar laws facing women all across the country stem from the male-dominated workforce from long-past eras.

In a statement, Sen. Duckworth said, “As tough as juggling the demands of motherhood and being a Senator can be, I’m hardly alone or unique as a working parent, and my children only make me more committed to doing my job and standing up for hardworking families everywhere.”

This wouldn’t be the first time rules have been “bent” in the Senate. NPR notes, “Those examples tend to favor legislators battling serious illnesses, a fact that is not surprising, given that the average senator in January 2017 was about 62 years old. Exceptions have also been made for members with limited mobility. In 1997, for instance, some steps on the Senate floor were replaced with a ramp to assist Sen. Max Cleland D-Ga., a disabled veteran who used a wheelchair.”

But the rules that keep new mothers in the Senate from doing their job and voting legislation shouldn’t just be bent for one woman. They should be rewritten, and that should have happened a long time ago. With record numbers of women now running for office, the biases inherent in the political system that have always made that arena far more conducive to men serving, that have worked to keep women out of politics, need to be rooted out. And hopefully, these changes won’t be limited to the Senate. They need to extend to working mothers across the country, something that is much more likely to happen with more women in politics.

(image: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.