California lawmakers are considering granting special parking privileges to women in the final three months of pregnancy and the first two months after birth.
The legislation would apply to more than a half-million women who give birth every year in California.
Assemblyman Chuck DeVore's bill would qualify pregnant women for "temporarily disabled" parking placards from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
"Let's be reasonable here: There are challenges, physical challenges, that arise as a natural part of life," DeVore said of pregnancy.
The Irvine Republican said it makes little sense to force a pregnant woman who has trouble getting out of her car, and might have a toddler in tow, to park in the outer reaches of a parking lot.
"It certainly makes you realize that for that very short period of time in their pregnancy, they are certainly by any practical definition (impaired)," he said.
DeVore is wading into a thicket abandoned four years ago by a colleague, then-Assemblyman Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks, who proposed similar legislation, then shelved it amid a hail of controversy.
Opponents of the new proposal, Assembly Bill 1940, say pregnant women should be exercising as much as possible and that the legislation could reduce parking for motorists with more serious disabilities.
"We really want pregnant women to be active, to be moving, to be walking," said Shannon Smith-Crowley of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' California chapter, which opposes the bill.
A woman with complications from pregnancy that severely impair walking, or cause other serious health problems, can qualify for a temporary parking placard under existing law, she said.
"If she truly needs it, she can already get it," Smith-Crowley said.
Helen Grieco, executive director of the California chapter of the National Organization for Women, said the bill inadvertently could send the wrong societal message.
"It's very much a normal part of a woman's life we have children," Grieco said. "So we've always been troubled by framing pregnancy as a disability."
The bill would allow pregnant women to park in spaces reserved for those with disabilities, park for free beside meters, and park for unlimited lengths of time beside green curbs.
To qualify for a temporary placard, women would have to produce a note from a doctor, nurse, midwife or other health care professional stating that they are in the final three months of pregnancy.
Frances Gracechild, executive director of Resources for Independent Living, which assists people with disabilities, said she had not yet read AB 1940.
"But reasonable people might say that if you decide to pass it, it would have to have a commensurate increase in parking spaces (for people with disabilities)," Gracechild said.
AB 1940 faces its first legislative hearing Monday in the Assembly Transportation Committee.
More than 2.6 million Californians, roughly 11 percent of the state's motorists, possess special parking privileges because of disabilities, DMV records show.
Statistics are not kept on how many temporary parking placards have been granted under existing law due to complications from pregnancy.
Strickland, whose 2004 effort failed, said he still supports easing the strain on pregnant women. "Look, I've never had to carry around a 10-pound baby in my belly and walk every day," he said.