Do You Give Up Your Seat for Pregnant Women Riding SEPTA?

A Washington Post article has fueled an online debate.

The Washington Post went ahead and cracked open a big ol’ can of worms this week with a blog post about one writer’s experience riding the city’s Metro subway system while pregnant. She reports that a majority of her fellow riders don’t give their seats to allow her to sit, even now as she’s nine months pregnant (read: very, very obviously preggo) and past her due date.

After comparing notes with a pregnant friend who is also a regular Metro rider, the writer, Dana Hedgpeth, came up with a list of the kinds of fellow riders who are most and least to give up their seats for pregnant ladies. She calls her list “wholly unscientific” (which it is, of course), but her observations are interesting nonetheless.

On her most-likely list:

*Young African American men. They’ve been quick to spring from their seats, regardless if they’re engrossed in music or reading.

*Middle-aged women. I’m guessing it’s because they remember what it feels like to carry a bowling ball with swollen feet and an achy back.

And those least likely to vacate their seats:

*20-something women. Usually they’re too busy texting to look up. If they do, it is a look of “I-don’t-notice-you-or-your-large-belly.”

*Middle-aged white guys. I’ve had one offer me his seat. More often they’ve looked away. I once had a man snarl when I bumped his arm while trying to move to the center of a rail car.

Most fascinating, though, are some of the comments Hedgpeth has gotten on the Post article. More than a few talk (with implied eye-rolling, mind you) about a sense of entitlement that pregnant women seem to pervade when it comes to seats on public transportation. Some examples:

As I’ve said on this blog before, I lived in DC for six years and commuted on Metro for some of that time. So I can personally attest to the madness that is the Metro at rush hour (particularly, that dang Orange Line). While I was lucky enough to never experience what it’s like being pregnant (or on crutches, or in a wheel chair, for that matter) on Metro, I observed many occasions in which a pregnant, elderly or disabled person was forced to stand when no one offered them their seat.

I now ride the bus fairly regularly in Philly. I’m happy to report that at the times I’m on board, my buses are hardly ever lacking for seats. That said, I’ve seen a fair number of elderly people forced to stand when people in the front rows refuse to offer them their seats. It makes me mad every time. I imagine pregnant women don’t have much luck in this department, either.

Before you jump down my throat about priority seating rules on SEPTA, I’m well aware that the letter of the law specifies that priority seating is for persons with disabilities, such as those in wheelchairs—period, end of sentence. In fact, SEPTA’s own website states that “the operator will ask a rider to change seats if they are occupying a priority seat, but under ADA, other riders cannot be required to vacate these seats.”

Fine. You don’t technically have to get up if a pregnant person gets on the bus. Or an elderly person for that matter. But don’t you think there’s something to be said for, um, common human decency in these sorts of situations? Isn’t there some sort of unspoken moral code under which you should feel like a jerk if you’re sitting there playing solitaire on your iPhone while a pregnant woman holds on to the railing for dear life?

Pregnant women of Philly: What’s been your experience riding SEPTA? Do your fellow passengers ever offer you seats? Have you ever asked anyone for their seat? And to everyone else, are you one to spring up when someone clearly more in need wants to sit? Or do you agree with some of the Post commenters that pregnancy is not a condition for which giving up your seat is necessary? Sound off in the comments.

  • Lauren

    For the love of God, YES you should give up your seat to a person who needs it more – it’s common decency which, evidently,isn’t so common any more. Sure, maybe you have a bad knee or some other affliction that isn’t visible. Fine. You can’t give up your seat – that’s ok. But there are plenty of people around who are able-bodied and could stand so a pregnant woman or elderly person could sit. It’s the able-bodied people I’m talking to. You reap what you sow. If you’re lucky, you’ll be elderly one day. I’m sure it’s tough to imagine for some people, but that could be you in 40 years and I bet you’ll wish you weren’t such jerk when you were younger.

  • Alexis

    I was pregnant two summers ago and i have to say that many did give up their seats, but many did not. When I used to ride septa, I always tried to give up my seat, not only to the elderly or disabled, but to anyone who looked like they probably needed it more than I did. That meant someone carrying an infant or small child or someone with a lot of bags. I think that is what the general rule of courtesy calls for. Bethindc1, under the ADA, a disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.” “Major life activities” as defined by the ADA “include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.” As someone who has been pregnant, I know that it substantially limits walking, standing, lifting, bending, and breathing. Please show me where in the ADA it says that a disability has to be a permanent affliction. Why is someone who is pregnant any less entitled to a seat because she has swollen ankles, than someone who has a swollen ankle due to edema. Perhaps, just like the pregnant woman made a choice to have a baby, the person with edema made a lifestyle choice that led to their condition. The point is not that pregnant women should be “entitled” to a seat, it’s that if you are able-bodied, you should give up your seat because they probably need it more than you do. If the bus jerks and they fall, it could be dangerous, but if you are a healthy adult and you fall, the outcome will most likely be less serious.

    • Laurie

      Alexis,

      While I agree with virtually everything in your comment, I think it’s very inconsiderate to assume that disabilities are the result of lifestyle choices. When you see someone with a disability, you can assume all you want but you have NO idea how they ended up that way and its not fair to compare it with pregnancy. Just some food for thought.

      • Alexis

        Laurie,

        If you reread my comment, I said “perhaps” a person with a disability made a lifestyle choice that led to their condition. I would never assume that someone made a choice to be disabled. However, some people who do have disabilities made lifestyle choices that led to their conditions. For example, many people with lung cancer have smoked their whole lives. Another example, is someone may have dove into a pool drunk and become paralyzed. On the other hand, plenty of people get lung cancer and never smoked or become paralyzed due to a car accident. My point was, I felt the other reader was saying that pregnancy is a choice you make so is less worthy of consideration. I was trying to say that a lot of people make choices that affect their health and pregnancy shouldn’t be discounted because it is something that is seen as a choice.

  • http://about.me/louperseghin Lou

    I’ll give up my seat to whoever looks like they need one. The biggest reason isn’t because they may be uncomfortable if they’re standing, but that should they fall it could very likely result in more than just a bruised ego. I’m in shape enough to take a spill and be fine, but pregnant women, old folks and the physically infirm shouldn’t have to take that chance.

    Riding SEPTA can be uncomfortable for anyone, why force someone else to stand who would suffer unduly if they fell? Don’t be a jerk.

  • jef

    Human beings make this much, much harder than it needs to be. It requires no thoughts or analysis about whether they feel they are entitled, or not. That is all brain clutter.
    The solution: give up your seat. It will make her happy, and potentially a little safer for her child should more and more people board the bus. In turn, and the second best part of this: it will make the giver of the seat much happier. It will help make your day better. When you think life is tough…do something nice and it suddenly gets less tough!!!!!

  • Vince

    If you’re really preggers and ready to pop, yeah you can have my seat. If you’re just a couple of months into it, can’t say I’m that motivated to give it up.

    • Laura

      Spoken like a true gentleman. Truth be told, I found the hardest months of my pregnancy to be the first few. You are sick, fatigued more than one can imagine, and many times off balance from the newly raging hormones. You might not have known this, so I will cut you a bit of slack.

  • Mo

    JUST DO IT!!!

    And by the way Vince, the exhaustion BEFORE you are very pregnant can wipe you out. A seat is always appreciated.

    Just think- KARMA.

  • Kristin

    I’d give my seat up to whomever appears to need it – including pregnant women. I hope that the pregnant women return the favor by becoming sidewalk sharing moms who do not take up the entire sidewalk when walking with their strollers and friends/family/children/etc!

  • Laura

    I take the train to and from work each day. I would say honestly that men (no matter the color) in their 30′s and 40′s almost never offered me a seat even while I was at the end of my pregnancy. They would just look down as I stood. I never expected someone to give me a seat, but it never fails to disappoint me of people’s manners when they fail to offer.

  • http://www.mammaonthemove.com Giulia

    When I was pregnant it was very rare that someone would let me sit, and having to take two very busy trains per day it was no fun! Standing is not easy, people push you around and crowd can make you queasy.
    So after my son was born I tried to find a solution to help other mums-to-be.
    I think there is a double problem, on one hand pregnant women might feel shy about asking for a seat, on the other sometimes it’s not so easy to know if someone is actually pregnant or just a bit overweight, particularly at the beginning.
    That’s why I have created a collection of stylish but fun t-shirts and accessories designed to help women get a seat. They are also ideal to announce and celebrate a pregnancy.
    Check out http://www.mammaonthemove.com
    Hope this will help future mums-to-be to improve their travelling experience!

  • ejk

    I almost never offer my seat out of fear of offending the person I’m offering it to with my presumption about their physical needs, and because most of the times I’ve tried I’ve been rebuffed. IDK.