OPINION: Latest bump in YSL gang trial puts pregnancy in spotlight

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

The latest twist in the sluggish Young Slime Life (YSL) gang trial is all about due dates rather than trial dates.

This is the case in which Jeffrey Williams aka Young Thug was indicted on RICO (reserved for members of enterprises engaged in racketeering), gun and drug charges. He is accused of being the co-founder and leader of a criminal street gang and is on trial with 13 alleged associates.

The trial has been moving at a snail’s pace as potential jurors ask to be excused for hardships on a case that is expected to last six to nine months.

Now, two of the defending attorneys, Nicole Fegan and Teombre Calland, have revealed that they are pregnant. On Feb. 14, prosecutors filed a motion to sever the trial of their respective clients, Tenquarius Mender and Kahlieff Adams, from that of the other YSL co-defendants.

When Fegan and Calland made the court aware of their need for personal leave, the state asserted that their absence would “inject undue disruption and delay into the progress of the pending trial that this Court cannot ameliorate or mitigate with reasonable accommodations.”

The attorneys would presumably request a continuance at a future date, which could further delay the trial by several weeks. Fulton County Chief Judge Ural Glanville will hear the motion on March 1.

What stuck with me was not the motion or the potential outcome, but Fegan’s comments highlighting the ongoing challenges that women face as they try to balance careers and childbirth.

“I don’t think pregnancy should be treated as a disease or a disability,” Fegan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. “If Rihanna can do it, I’m sure that we can both adequately represent our clients.”

Fegan was referencing the superstar’s recent Super Bowl halftime show on an elevated platform that led to the revelation that Rihanna is pregnant.

She was the recipient of both praise and criticism for her decision to perform. It was the kind of Catch-22 that many pregnant women experience — a damned if you do and damned if you don’t judgment by others about what you should or shouldn’t be doing while pregnant.

It’s safe to assume Rihanna wasn’t pregnant when she accepted the invitation to perform. Fegan said she wasn’t pregnant when the trial began.

Should either woman be expected to forgo a career-defining moment because she became pregnant?

Women are protected against pregnancy-based discrimination and harassment at work under federal law, but those laws don’t count for much in the court of public opinion.

In 2014, a Georgia immigration attorney made headlines when she brought a newborn to a court hearing after a judge declined to grant her a continuance for the birth of her child. The judge then chastised her for disrupting the proceedings and exposing the baby to germs, according to a complaint filed by the attorney. “He humiliated me in open court,” she wrote in her complaint.

It’s humiliating, annoying, and a host of other adjectives to have the decisions you make while pregnant or as a new parent held up to scrutiny from anyone and everyone who decides to weigh in.

“Pregnant women and mothers are perceived as warm and maternal, but also incompetent and uncommitted,” according to a 2020 paper in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “If they return to work, they are perceived as cold, but still incompetent and uncommitted.”

Judging from the criticism on social media about her Super Bowl appearance, most notably from Donald Trump, even Rihanna can’t escape the pregnancy stigma.

Pregnancy discrimination is on the rise in the workplace, which means it is likely also on the rise among the general public. According to a 2022 survey from the Bipartisan Policy Center, 1 in 5 women (20%) said they have experienced pregnancy-related discrimination in the workplace.

In June, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will go into effect, giving pregnant workers the right to receive reasonable accommodations unless it would be an undue hardship on the employer.

It is a step forward in protecting the civil rights of pregnant people, but will it help change our collective bad habit of weighing in on the decisions pregnant women make about their lives? Will it stop us from using pregnancy as the filter to judge the quality of or commitment to their work?

Fegan’s track record speaks for itself. This case is less about Fegan and Calland’s ability to do their jobs while pregnant and more about the impact their absence would have on the already troubled YSL proceedings.

But Fegan’s comments give voice to the concerns that too many women still have about being stigmatized while pregnant.

We can’t all have Rihanna’s couldn’t care less attitude, but her apparent detachment from the criticism is a posture to which all pregnant people can aspire.

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at nedra.rhone@ajc.com.