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TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez and Senator Sandra B. Cunningham giving equal rights and opportunities for pregnant students in colleges and universities was signed into law today.

S-1489 would prohibit institutions of higher education from requiring a graduate student or undergraduate student to take a leave of absence, withdraw from a graduate program or limit her studies due to her pregnancy or issues related to her pregnancy. Colleges and universities offering graduate programs would also be required to develop, adopt and distribute policies regarding pregnancy discrimination.

The law gives certain protections for institutions of higher education offering associate or baccalaureate degrees to ban the requiring of making a pregnant student take a leave of absence, withdraw from an associate or baccalaureate program, or limit associate or baccalaureate studies solely due to pregnancy or pregnancy-related issues. The institutions of higher education will also be required to provide reasonable accommodations to a pregnant student to enable the student to complete coursework and research and also develop and adopt a written policy procedure for students on pregnancy discrimination.

“This is about providing female students some flexibility to care for a newborn child without abandoning their studies and their goals,” said Senator Cruz-Perez (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This is a law that gives a woman the comfort to know that if she requires time off related to the pregnancy, her dreams of a degree can still be pursued. This will help support the academic success of women and give proper respect to a woman’s health and her family.”

“This law will take away some of the stress that women may feel while they are trying to do the right thing for themselves and their families, said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “This will provide flexibility where it is needed to ensure students can continue their education without worrying about unfair obstacles that could set them back. This will protect against pregnancy discrimination under the law.”

Under the law, a student who chooses to take a leave of absence because she is pregnant or has recently given birth shall be allowed a certain time frame consistent with the policies of the institution of higher education in which she is enrolled, or a period of 12 months, whichever period is longer, to prepare for and take preliminary and qualifying examinations.

The law would allow for an enrolled student who is in good standing who chooses to take a leave of absence due to pregnancy, has recently given birth, or in the case of a student who is not a birth parent, to return to the associate or baccalaureate program in good standing following a leave period consistent with the policies of the institution of higher education, or of up to one month, whichever period is longer.

If there is a medical reason for a longer absence, the standing of a pregnant student or a student who has recently given birth in an associate or baccalaureate program would be maintained during that absence.

The law would also require schools to provide pregnant graduate students with reasonable accommodations for the student’s health and safety. These may include, allowing the student to maintain a safe distance from hazardous substances, allowing the student to make up tests and assignments that are missed for pregnancy-related reasons, allowing a student to take a leave of absence, and excusing medically-necessary absences.

The inspiration for this law comes from cases of pregnancy discrimination in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields (STEM). Pregnancy discrimination has been known to hinder the advancement of women in these fields. For example, even though women represent between 35 and 40 percent of graduate students in chemistry, less than 13 percent of faculty at the top 50 universities in the United States are women. Studies also indicate that attrition rates from STEM graduate programs are substantially higher among women, and that a contributing factor for these high attrition rates is their graduate program’s lack of flexibility during their pregnancy.

S-1489 cleared the full Senate 36-0 and cleared the Assembly 76-0.

The law goes into effect immediately.