Scientist Unfairly Booted From Conference Program for Being Pregnant

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Waiting for a baby. Close-up of young pregnant woman touching her abdomen while sitting on the couchAt a certain point it would be really nice if the world would realize that pregnant women are capable of making decisions for themselves, but the European Commission recently informed British geneticist Dr. Samantha Decombel that they would be uninviting her from their annual conference because she would be seven months pregnant, and they did not want her traveling at that time.

According to CNNMoney,  back in July Dr. Descombel was scheduled to give a talk in Brussels at the end of November. She told the organizers that she was pregnant and would prefer to travel by train, and everything was fine. Dr. Descombel was particularly excited about the prospect of speaking at the conference because she knew that examples of pregnant female scientists and entrepreneurs are few and far between.

“It was an opportunity to be a pregnant speaker and show people that you can combine a scientific career, a career in business — and it’s not to be feared,” she said.

But then in September, Dr. Descombel received an email from the European Commission revoking her invitation because: “Our colleagues from the European Commission are not very enthusiastic to take a risk for your health making you travel to Brussels at the late stage of your pregnancy.”

It’s ridiculous and paternalistic. Dr. Descombel is a grown woman who can decide for herself whether or not to travel by train to Brussels while seven months pregnant, and the E.C. shouldn’t be trying to make those decisions for her.

“As I am sure you are aware, one of the key hurdles facing many women in science and entrepreneurship is the desire to start a family, and how this will fit in with their career plans,” Dr. Descombel wrote in response. “Turning away a pregnant speaker, who is in excellent health and has voluntarily agreed to travel … seems to me to be the perfect demonstration of why this is still such an issue.”

The E.C. did eventually apologize for disinviting Dr. Descombel.

“Gender equality is a principle that we constantly seek to uphold … including in science and business, where women are still underrepresented. Every staff member has a standing obligation to defend and support gender equality,” the E.C. said in a a statement.

In the end, the conference was canceled at the last minute due to the lockdown in Brussels following the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.

(Photo: gsockstudio/iStockPhoto/Getty Images)