Should the US have a mandated paid maternity leave?

The recent overturning of Roe v Wade has prompted many to point out the lack of resources for mothers, such as mandatory paid maternity leave. The United States remains the only high-income country that does not have a national paid family leave policy.

Rise of the Issue

The pandemic has shifted the benefits many employers offer to their workers – including paid parental leave. Many states have expanded their laws to accommodate challenges of working from home brought on by the pandemic. In addition, the recent overturning of Roe v Wade has shone a spotlight on the lack of resources available to mothers, including mandated paid maternity leave. Yet, the United States is still the only high-income country worldwide that does not have a national paid family leave policy.

The debate around paid maternity leave mainly revolves around disagreements over whether it is individuals’ or businesses’ role to bear the financial cost of a personal choice such as pregnancy, and whether it increases fairness for families from lower economic backgrounds or increases inequality to those who cannot or do not intend to bear children.

Issue Timeline


Pregnancy Disability Act Became Law

After the Supreme Court ruled that pregnancy discrimination is not a form of sex discrimination as protected by the Civil Right Act, Congress passed legislation to codify the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.


Family and Medical Leave Act First Introduced

A version of the legislation to ensure protection for employees to take care of a child or relative was introduced every year between 1984 and 1993.


Law Requiring Leave for Pregnant Women Upheld

In the case of California Federal Savings and Loan Association v. Guerra, the Supreme Court upheld a California law that requires most employers to grant pregnant women four months of unpaid disability leave and the right to return to the same job, as well as the ability to grant those rights to women without similar benefits for men.


Congress Passes Family and Medical Leave Act

The legislation allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of a newborn, newly adopted or placed child, or care for a seriously ill child, spouse or parents, or a serious health condition of their own.


FMLA Amended to Include Same-Sex Spouse

The Department of Labor revised the definition of the word “spouse” under the act to ensure that eligible workers in a legal same-sex marriage are allowed to take leave to care for a spouse or family member, regardless of the state in which they reside.


California Enacts Paid Family Leave Legislation

The law provided up to eight weeks of benefits to covered workers who need time off to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member - becoming the first state in the nation to do so.


North Dakota Banned Family Leave Legislation

The state legislature banned cities and counties from enacting local laws that guarantee paid family leave.

Micro Issues



Opponents say the cost of paying someone who is not working in addition to a possible replacement should not be the burden of a business, while supporters argue there is a return on investment in the long run due to employee retention.



The two sides have opposing views on whether it is the business’s responsibility to reduce financial stress for people who choose to become parents.



Supporters point out that making paid maternity leave mandatory would create more equality amongst mothers since they would all be afforded the same benefit, while opponents worry that it leaves non-parents with the short end of the stick.

Pro Arguments


It creates more equality amongst mothers.

Low income workers currently have much less access to paid maternity leave than higher income workers. Making it mandatory would reduce that inequality.


It makes mothers more likely to return to the workforce.

Mothers with access to paid parental leave are 93 percent more likely to return to the workforce within one year of giving birth.


Paid parental leave reduces financial stress.

Having a child is expensive, and the added stress of no income while taking care of a newborn can cause economic hardship for parents.


It promotes a healthy work-life balance.

Paid maternity leave gives mothers time to bond with and take care of their newborns without the stress of lack of income.


Paid maternity leave creates more diversity in the workforce.

More women are attracted to jobs if they can take time off to care for their baby after giving birth, and they are more likely to come back - which leads to more diversity.

Con Arguments


Businesses will have to pay someone who is not working.

If a mother is on paid leave following the birth of her child, the company is paying her even though she is not currently contributing to their bottom line.


Businesses would have to spend additional money to replace the worker.

If the work cannot wait until the mother is back from leave, a business has to hire someone to replace them until they get back - costing them more money.


It could put more pressure on other workers.

Having one member of the workforce on paid parental leave could put more pressure on other employees to pick up the work of the person on leave.


It does not apply to people who are not parents.

People without children could feel like they are being unfairly denied paid time off because they are not parents.


Businesses could lose valuable employees for an extended period of time.

If parental leave is paid, employees have less incentive to come back to work as quickly as possible, meaning the business has to do without their potentially very valuable employee for longer.