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TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez and Senator Sandra B. Cunningham giving equal rights and opportunities for pregnant graduate students in colleges and universities cleared the full Senate today.

S-1489 would prohibit institutions of higher education from requiring a graduate 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.

“This legislation will provide 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 bill 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. We need to support the academic success of women and this legislation will hopefully give proper respect to a woman’s health and her family.”

“No woman should feel the stress of pregnancy and her education, nor should she have to sacrifice one for the other. This bill looks to do what is right for a mother,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “This legislation will take away some of that stress that a woman may feel while she is trying to do the right thing for herself and her child. It will provide flexibility where it is needed and help to address the issues that some students are facing in higher education.”

Under this legislation, a graduate 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, under the bill.

The measure 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 time it takes to earn the degree while in candidacy for a graduate degree for a pregnant graduate student shall be increased in an amount equal to the length of the leave of absence, unless a longer extension is medically necessary, the bill states.

Furthermore, a graduate student who is in good academic standing and takes a leave of absence would be able to return in good academic standing.

The inspiration for this bill 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 40-0. This bill cleared the committee 4-0 last week and is now scheduled to be heard in the Assembly.