The APA Committee on the Status of Women responds to Penn State

16 September 2013

David Gray, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business

Susan Basso, Vice President for Human Resources

Penn State University

University Park, Pennsylvania

Dear Mr. Gray and Ms. Basso:

According to an article in the 10 September Centre Daily Times and the 15 September New York Times, a health risk assessment questionnaire that is part of Penn State’s new employee wellness program asks women employees whether they plan to get pregnant in the next year. If the employee refuses to disclose this she is penalized $100 for every month she fails to yield up the information.

By requiring women employees to disclose information about their sex lives, Penn State violates their privacy rights and likely violates their rights under federal law (Title VII and The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Title IX, privacy law, and equal protection). Highmark, Penn State’s health care provider, targets women employees by imposing on them a special burden of disclosure about their sexual intent. Are male employees required to disclose their intended sexual activity over the year? To avoid paying a fine, is a woman employee forced to lie? And if she has no plans but becomes pregnant accidentally, does that increase her insurance premiums?

In a culture where women’s bodies are socially policed from early childhood until well past menopause, it is particularly unethical to force a female employee to reveal her reproductive intentions to a corporation whose interest is in making profits—an interest that directly conflicts with the woman’s interest in retaining sovereignty over her body. We members of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women urge you in the strongest possible terms to direct Highmark to cease this practice immediately.


Hilde Lindeman (signed)

Chair,  the American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women

for CSW.

Mother accused of attempting to murder her autistic daughther.

Here. Kelly Stapleton locked herself and her teenage daughter Issy in a car with burning coals. Both survived the poisoning although the daughter is on life support. The story is harrowing and the comments over the internet divided between those who have some sympathy for the mother and those who point out that whereas Kelly could get help, she was to all intent and purposes Issy’s support system.

Of possible relevance is some research that has come out recently on the stress levels experienced by mothers of autistic children. This piece claims that it is on a par with the level of stress experienced by combat soldiers.

Very little gets said, in either of these pieces and elsewhere, about fathers of autistic children. It would be easy to explain this away by saying that mothers of autistic children, like mothers of neuro-typical children do most of the work. However having an autistic child more often than not requires the involvement of at least two adults, whether they like it or not. Are journalists simply writing them out because they don’t expect them to play any role in their child’s life?