(WOMENSENEWS)– A memo issued by Berkeley County schools implies that female employees should plan their pregnancies around their available sick days, reported The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C.

“Of course, we do understand childbirth is a major health concern,” wrote Assistant Superintendent Willis Sanders in the late September memo. However, he added, “Pregnancy can be planned and employees can bank days for this.”

According to the new policy detailed in the memo, employees will be required to earn sick days prior to using them. Practically speaking, what this means for a pregnant woman is that she would no longer be allowed to use “advance” sick days to extend maternity leave.

This school year, 7 out of 15 requests for advance sick days have come from employees wishing to tack on sick days to the end of their maternity leave. Although all seven requests have been granted, the policy change would mean that future requests would not automatically be approved.

Approximately a dozen employees and teachers have come forward to voice concerns over the new policy. In the wake of the uproar following the memo’s release, Sanders acknowledged that he should not have targeted maternity leave.

“We want to be a very caring and supportive school district and it happened that this one memo I sent out may not have portrayed that image,” said Sanders.

“We are actually blown away that a woman should be told when to schedule her pregnancy according to a school district” said Robin Gardner, the local representative for The South Carolina Education Association, the union representing the school teacher. “This has just taken us to back before the women’s movement.”

Events in South Carolina have struck many health advocates as unfair in the past. In March, 2001, Regina McKnight was sentenced to 12 years in prison after being found guilty of child abuse. The ruling was passed down following the determination that drug use was a factor in the death of her stillborn child.

“The criminal investigation and possible prosecution of women like Ms. McKnight sends a perilous message to pregnant addicts not to seek prenatal care or drug treatment,” the American Public Health Association and other medical and health groups told the court, according to The Associated Press. South Carolina remains the only state to link a homicide statute with stillbirth.

“South Carolina apparently sees pregnant women as an appropriate subject of the state’s control whether it means requiring women to time their pregnancies for the convenience of a state employer or requiring women to guarantee a healthy pregnancy or face a lifetime in jail,” said Lynn Paltrow, a lawyer and director of the New York-based National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Paltrow was an attorney in the McKnight case.

— Carline Bennett.