Pregnancy ban 'illegal discrimination'

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 12:37 31/12/2013
Annick Masselot

RESEARCHER: Annick Masselot.

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Banning women from flying in the late stages of pregnancy is "gender biased" and may breach human rights, a University of Canterbury researcher says.

Rules regarding the rights and responsibilities of pregnant women flying with New Zealand airlines vary, but women are generally required to carry a medical certificate stating they are fit to fly after about 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Associate Professor Annick Masselot said the policies were often justified on the grounds of health and safety, despite little medical or scientific evidence to back them up.

It was rare for pregnancy-related medical problems to occur on flights, particularly compared to the number of passengers who suffered other health problems while flying, such as heart, epileptic or high blood pressure problems, she said.

However, pregnant women were still asked to provide a medical certificate while others with "more risky" medical conditions were not.

"Airlines base their policy on over-inflated safety concerns that are gender biased," Masselot said.

The policies were "guilty of over-protecting pregnant women" and created a space for "illegal discrimination".

"I also believe that it is a form of control over women, especially pregnant women who are viewed as public goods."

Masselot said some airline companies appeared to be trying to avoid the "inconvenience" of an accidental delivery in the air, while some were trying to avoid the bad publicity that would result if a pregnancy went "bad" on a plane.

There had been very few legal challenges to the policies, but a number of recent challenges had been brought to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) by pregnant women refused travel by some airline companies, she said.

She hoped decisions expected to be released by the HRC soon would result in a "better environment" for pregnant women.

Jetstar required mums-to-be who were at least 28 weeks pregnant to carry a medical certificate confirming the estimated date of their baby's delivery, how many babies they were having and stating there were no complications with the pregnancy.

The airline's website stated it "strongly advises against" flying from the start of the 36th week of pregnancy.

Medical clearance was required if the pregnancy was not routine or had complications.

The airline would allow women to fly up to the end of the 40th week of their pregnancy if they were having one baby, while women having more than one baby could travel only to the end of their 36th week of pregnancy.

A Jetstar spokeswoman said the company followed guidelines set by the International Air Transport Association, which was followed similarly by other airlines.

"Our policy has been in place for quite some time and there are currently no plans to review this policy," she said.

Air New Zealand allowed women to fly up to the end of their 35th week of pregnancy on flights over five hours and to the end of the 37th week of pregnancy for shorter flights.

However, women carrying more than one baby could only travel with Air New Zealand up to the end of their 31st week of pregnancy.

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The airline required pregnant women to have a medical clearance in other circumstances.

- The Press

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