TIME Media

How Stephen Colbert Schooled Americans in Campaign Finance

By having his own Super PAC and 501(c)(4), he could evolve right alongside the campaigns

When I speak at law schools, I am always asked about the Colbert Super PAC “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow” and its sibling 501(c)(4), “Colbert Super PAC Shhh.” Almost every time, someone asks, “How did you and Stephen Colbert plan the story line of his coverage of money in politics?”

The assumption at law schools, where law professors create a course by designing a complete blueprint for each subject, is that Stephen’s two years of on-air legal conversations on money and politics issues were planned and scripted in advance. Stephen certainly offered the American public a course in modern campaign finance law, but there never was a master plan for the discovery of the American campaign finance system’s peculiarities. Instead, our serial discussion evolved in wonderful spontaneity, appropriate to Stephen’s belief in the power of improvisation. One conversation simply led logically to another—unless Stephen got that wild look in his eyes and said “What if I did…?” (like “run for President of South Carolina”), and then the dialogue took an unexpected turn.

The 2012 presidential election cycle was a remarkable time in the campaign finance field. Campaigns evolved in real time as they experimented with the new political vehicles known as Super PACs and explored the gray areas of election law. Along the way, Stephen effectively demonstrated the absurdities and workarounds in our campaign finance system through the creation of several legal entities: a non-connected PAC to raise money to influence elections, a Super PAC to raise unlimited contributions from corporations and labor unions, and a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization used to launder contributions to keep donors anonymous.

Finally, he was able to show America the loopholes (or “loop-chasms” as he called them) in the laws designed to regulate coordination between candidates and supposedly “independent” groups. By having his own Super PAC and 501(c)(4), Stephen could evolve right alongside the campaigns—or often be a step ahead of them. His understanding of the possibilities inherent in the legal confusion was keen enough to discover and exploit absurd legalities before it became clear that actual candidates and political activists were doing the same thing.

Working with Stephen, I quickly came to respect his quick and sharp intellect, including that skill so highly prized by lawyers: the ability to ingest and intellectually digest a large amount of information on an unfamiliar subject, distilling it into key questions and insights. The fact that he could do this with unfamiliar campaign finance legal concepts always amazed me; that he could then boil it all down to a 4 ½ minute on-air discussion and make it funny was pure genius. I told him at one point that if he ever wanted a different career, he would make the world’s best Supreme Court advocate. After all, the highest paid lawyers master the factual record of their case, apply a nuanced area of law, and present the breadth of this material to the justices in a digestible and persuasive manner. The only difference is that Supreme Court advocates have 30 minutes and Colbert had 4 ½.

Stephen, if you ever decide to move on from the entertainment industry, I would be happy to refer potential Supreme Court clients.

Trevor Potter, Stephen Colbert’s “personal lawyer” for his SuperPac, is a former FEC Chairman and currently a member of the Caplin & Drysdale law firm and President of the Campaign Legal Center, a public interest law firm.

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Arizona Abortion Arguments

The justices left in place a lower court ruling

(WASHINGTON) — The Supreme Court is refusing to allow Arizona to enforce stringent restrictions on medical abortions while a challenge to those rules plays out in lower courts.

The justices on Monday left in place a lower court ruling that blocked rules that regulate where and how women can take drugs that induce abortion. The rules also would prohibit the use of the abortion medications after the seventh week of pregnancy instead of the ninth.

Planned Parenthood was among abortion providers that challenged the rules in federal court. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals prevented the state from putting them in place during the legal challenge. Similar laws are in effect in North Dakota, Ohio and Texas. The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the restrictions in that state.

The rules would ban women from taking the most common abortion-inducing drug, mifepristone, after the seventh week of pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration approved its use in 2000 through the first seven weeks of pregnancy. It is prescribed along with a second drug, misoprostol.

Since the FDA approval, medical researchers and clinical trials have shown that mifepristone is effective in much smaller doses and for two weeks longer in a pregnancy, the challengers said. The second drug also may be taken at home.

Arizona’s rules would require that the drugs be taken only at the doses approved by the FDA in 2000 and only at clinics.

Planned Parenthood says that medical abortions now account for more than 40 percent of abortions at its clinics.

To justify the restrictions, Arizona and the other states have pointed to the deaths of at least eight women who took the drugs. But the 9th circuit said the FDA investigated those deaths and found no causal connection between them and the use of mifespristone or misoprostol.

MONEY

Supreme Court Says Amazon Doesn’t Have To Pay Workers For Waiting In Security Lines

The Supreme Court hands down a ruling which says warehouse temp agencies hired by companies like Amazon, CVS, and TJ Maxx do not need to pay their employees for waiting in line for security screenings.

TIME Retail

Supreme Court Rules Amazon Workers Don’t Have to Be Paid for Security Checks

Workers had argued that security screening lines amounted to extra work time

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that workers in Amazon’s warehouses don’t have to be paid for the time they spend waiting in security screening lines after their shifts end.

The 9-0 ruling reverses a federal appeals court ruling in 2013 which found that workers should be paid during the waiting time because the screenings were a necessary part of their jobs that benefited their employer, Mashable reports. But the Supreme Court said that because the security screenings were not part of the tasks employees had been hired to perform—picking up products from shelves in Amazon’s massive warehouses—workers did not have to be paid for the time spent in line.

“The security screenings at issue are noncompensable postliminary activities,” the Justices wrote. “The workers were employed not to undergo security screenings but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package them for shipment.”

Workers for Integrity Staffing Solutions, an Amazon contractor, had said they had to wait as long as 25 minutes in security screening lines after work before they could leave the warehouses. But an Amazon spokesperson said the screenings require “little or no wait.”

[Mashable]

TIME justice

Execution Set for Man Whose Drunk Lawyer Botched His Defense

Robert Wayne Holsey
Convicted murderer Robert Wayne Holsey who is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 9, 2014. Georgia Department of Corrections/AP

His attorney drank a quart of vodka a night

In 1997, Andy Prince’s life was in a downward spiral. The Georgia attorney was drinking a quart of vodka a night. He stole $100,000 from a client. He was arrested for disorderly conduct after threatening to shoot his neighbors. But none of that prevented him from representing Robert Wayne Holsey, a Georgia man convicted of shooting a deputy sheriff and scheduled to die this week thanks to what Holsey’s current lawyers describe as unthinkable and almost criminally poor legal representation.

On Dec. 17, 1995, Holsey shot and killed Baldwin County Sheriff’s Deputy Will Robinson in Milledgeville, Ga., after the officer pulled Holsey over for a suspected robbery. At the time, Georgia had no public defender office, leaving it up to judges to appoint a lawyer, often resorting to attorneys they knew personally. In this case, Prince was chosen to defend Holsey.

MORE: Ohio looks to shield lethal injection drugmakers

“When [Prince] took on Holsey’s case, he was in a lot of trouble,” said attorney Brian Kammer, the director of the Georgia Resource Center who is currently representing Holsey. “He was barely able to represent him. He was a chronic heavy drinker, an alcoholic. And it impacted his performance.”

Kammer says that in Holsey’s sentencing phase, Prince barely prepared the basis for why his client should be spared the death sentence. At the time, Holsey’s IQ was about 70, meaning by some standards he was intellectually disabled. Prince provided little evidence in court to bolster that defense and largely failed to provide the jury with information about Holsey’s childhood, which was rife with abuse and could have persuaded jurors to spare his life. A jury sentenced Holsey to death in 1997.

In the months and years following the trial, Prince was disbarred, sentenced to 10 years for stealing client money and later testified that he shouldn’t have been representing Holsey in the first place.

MORE: Missouri just tied its lethal injection record)

Yet the death sentence remains. While Holsey is set to die by lethal injection on Tuesday, his lawyers are working to halt his execution. On Monday, Kammer presented Holsey’s case to Georgia’s five-member clemency board, arguing that Georgia’s standard for determining intellectual disability is unconstitutional, a strict standard that requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled in Hall v. Florida that it was unconstitutional to automatically prohibit anyone with an IQ of 70 or above from being considered mentally disabled. The Florida law initially had a strict cutoff that made those with an IQ of 70 or above eligible for the death penalty.

The parole panel, however, denied clemency on Monday, and the Georgia Supreme Court decided against a stay of execution in a 5-2 vote on Tuesday. Holsey’s lawyers have presented a last-minute appeal to the Supreme Court to halt the execution, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday.

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Pregnancy Discrimination Case

Peggy Young
Peggy Young, a Virginia woman who lost her UPS job because she became pregnant, speaks to reporters outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. The Supreme Court is weighing how much employers must do to accommodate pregnant workers under a federal law aimed at combating discrimination against them. Susan Walsh—AP

The Justices will soon decide how the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 should be interpreted

Is a pregnant woman like an employee who got injured on the job? Or more like someone who fell off an all-terrain vehicle over the weekend?

Those were the analogies that Supreme Court justices pondered on Wednesday in the most high-stakes challenge to pregnancy discrimination law in a generation. The answer could determine whether they side with UPS and business groups who interpret the law narrowly or with a former UPS employee who said the company was wrong to deny her request for an alternative assignment during her pregnancy.

A lawyer for UPS argued that the company’s policy — which granted workers alternative assignments if they were injured on the job but not for those hurt outside the workplace — did not discriminate because it treated pregnancy just like an off-the-job injury. The policy, they said, was neutral.

Justice Samuel Alito seemed sympathetic to that line of reasoning, asking rhetorically if a worker who fell off an ATV would have been treated the same way.

But an attorney representing former UPS employee Peggy Young argued the distinction between on-the-job and off-the-job workers was meaningless. If some workers were allowed to take alternative assignments when injured, he said, then not giving that same opportunity to pregnant women amounted to discrimination under the law.

Justice Elena Kagan seemed to agree. Her line of questioning was often the most aggressive, particularly when she was addressing the attorney representing UPS.

“The Pregnancy Discrimination Act has to be given a fair reading,” she said. “Saying a policy that accommodates some workers and puts pregnant women on one side of the line … seems like an unfair reading of the PDA.”

The Justices also heard from the U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli who on Wednesday said the federal government’s position on the matter changed in response to guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the summer.

Following the morning’s oral arguments, Young addressed a crowd of reporters saying she was “hopeful” that the Justices would rule in her favor. Her daughter Trinity, with whom she was pregnant when she worked for UPS, is now 7 years old. Young said Wednesday she doesn’t want her or her older daughter to have to go through the same thing she has.

“Women can work and be pregnant at the same time,” Young said. Young was only 7 when the PDA was passed, but she could soon represent the modern interpretation of the landmark law, which determined that pregnancy discrimination is in fact a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

During oral arguments, a crowd of Young supporters—including both pro-choice and pro-life activists— chanted and rallied outside of the Court. Their rallying cry of “Stand With Peggy” echoed on the marble steps of the Court just moments before Young spoke.

Her supporters were also joined by Democratic Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who urged the court to protect the rights of working pregnant women across the country.

“A woman should never have to face a choice between her job and pregnancy,” Shaheen said Wednesday.

The Senators authored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would secure a woman’s right to seek on-the-job accommodations during her pregnancy without the risk of retribution. The act could offer remedy if the court decides against Young in the coming months, but women’s rights activists including Marcia Greenberger of the National Women’s Law Center say that change would do nothing to help Young, who missed six months of pay and later lost medical benefits after her request for accommodation was denied.

MONEY sex discrimination

Everything Working Women Need to Know About Pregnancy Discrimination

U.S. Supreme Court Peggy Young UPS
Raimund Koch—Getty Images

The high court is hearing arguments on Wednesday on a case in which a UPS worker was forced to take unpaid leave when she got pregnant. Here's what every woman should know about this case and her rights in the workplace.

Any woman in the vicinity of her child-bearing years will want to pay attention to a case that’s being heard by the Supreme Court today.

The high court’s findings on Young v. United Parcel Service should address the gray areas of what workplace protections are guaranteed for pregnant women.

The least you need to know:

What’s the case about, anyway?

The plaintiff in the case is Peggy Young of Lorton, Va., who had worked as a delivery truck driver for UPS.

As part of her job description, she needed to be able to lift packages weighing up to 70 pounds. But when she got pregnant, her midwife wrote her a note that said she should not lift more than 20 pounds.

Young asked for a temporary “light-duty” assignment, but the company’s occupational health manager determined that she was ineligible.

Young says the division manager then told her she was “too much of a liability,” and she was not allowed to return to work until after she had given birth. So Young had to take an extended unpaid leave of absence, which caused her to lose her health coverage.

Wasn’t that discrimination?

That’s the question the court has to answer.

In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act which clarifies that discrimination against pregnant women is a form of sex discrimination. That means your employer can’t fire you or deny you job benefits because you’re pregnant, you might become pregnant, you’ve given birth, or you have any related medical problems. Your employer has to treat you the same as people who are not pregnant but similar in their ability to work.

To prove sex discrimination, however, Young needed to show four things.

First, that she was a woman. Second, that she was qualified for the job, or the job benefit. Third, her employer denied her the job or benefit she wanted. And fourth, a similarly situated man received the job or benefit that she wanted.

The fourth presents a particular challenge: Since men can’t get pregnant, which men are in a similar situation?

Young says UPS did give some other workers—employees who were injured on the job or had their drivers’ licenses were temporarily revoked—the light duty she wanted. Therefore, Young says UPS owed her the same accommodations.

However, lower courts disagreed with Young.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that UPS’s policy was “pregnancy-blind.” UPS wouldn’t have offered light duty assignments to, say, a man who threw his back out by lifting his kid or a woman who injured herself during a volunteer firefighter shift. Since UPS didn’t give all its temporarily-disabled workers light duty, the court found that UPS didn’t have to give light duty to Young.

Many women’s groups, health providers, labor advocates and even pro-life activists strongly disagreed with that ruling.

“If at some point during her pregnancy, a pregnant worker needs a minor adjustment to her job duties in order to continue doing her job safely, the employer has an obligation to provide that,” says Liz Watson, director of Workplace Justice for Women at the National Women’s Law Center.

What happens next?

Young appealed. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case Wednesday and issue a ruling sometime before the end of this term, in late June.

But in a “friend of the court” brief, the Justice Department argues that it might be a moot point.

In 2008, Congress passed a law amending the Americans with Disabilities Act that should make it even easier for pregnant women to qualify for accommodations like the one Young sought. Now, injuries that temporarily limit your ability to lift, stand, or bend should also qualify you for accommodations under the ADA.

And UPS has already reversed its policy. “While UPS’s denial of [Young’s] accommodation request was lawful at the time it was made (and thus cannot give rise to a claim for damages), pregnant UPS employees will prospectively be eligible for light-duty assignments,” the company’s brief says.

In the meantime, what are my rights if I’m pregnant or plan to become pregnant?

You are afforded the same protections as Young through the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. So you can’t be fired or denied benefits. Also, depending upon the size of the company, you may be entitled by law to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Additionally, under Obamacare, employers are required to allow mothers reasonable break time and a private space to express breast milk, Watson says.

I think an employer violated my rights. What can I do?

You can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a complaint, Watson says.

You’ll have more company than you might expect: From 1997 to 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received over 74,000 complaints of pregnancy discrimination.

You can also contact your state’s fair employment practice agency. Some states and municipalities have even stronger protections for pregnant women in the workplace. In the past 18 months, Illinois, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, West Virginia, Philadelphia, New York City, Providence and Pittsburg have all passed new laws, Watson says.

Or call a lawyer. “We unfortunately speak to women a lot who have suffered pregnancy discrimination,” Watson says. “What happened to Peggy Young, being forced off the job because she brought in a doctor’s note, is happening to women all across the country.”

TIME feminism

The Complicated History Behind the Fight for Pregnant Women’s Equality

Lillian Garland [& Family]
Lillian Garland (front), who won a Supreme Court case which supports pregnancy leave, with her daughter in 1986 Alan Levenson—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Two Supreme Court cases have helped define the struggle

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Peggy Young, a former UPS driver who had to go on unpaid leave — rather than paid leave or adjusted duty — when she got pregnant and a doctor told her to stop lifting heavy packages. Though UPS has since adjusted its leave policy for pregnant workers, the company maintains and a lower court agreed that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act doesn’t make it illegal to give pregnant employees different leave policies than non-pregnant ones. If the act did make such treatment illegal, they say, it would constitute special treatment. Young’s side, on the other hand, argues that making accommodations for pregnant workers is to treat them the same as other workers, not specially.

Unsurprisingly, several women’s rights organizations, like the Women’s Law Project and Legal Momentum, which is associated with the National Organization for Women (NOW), have filed an amicus brief in support of Young.

But, despite all the women’s-rights oomph behind Young’s case, the history of feminism and pregnancy discrimination isn’t so clear cut.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has pointed out, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978 to specify that discriminating against pregnant people is a kind of sex discrimination (after the Supreme Court case had earlier decided the opposite). It was less than three decades ago — in 1986 — that NOW, as well as the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, came out on the side of the employer in a case that sounds very similar to Young v. United Parcel Service. They aren’t exactly parallel, but many of the deep questions raised by the earlier case remain pertinent today. How much should childbearing be connected to a woman’s identity? Does respecting women require making allowances for that undeniable difference? Or would doing so hold women back by linking their legal identities to their function as mothers? How much inequality can be tolerated in the service of big-picture equality?

At issue was a challenge to a 1978 California law that required businesses to offer unpaid maternity leave. Lillian Garland had been a receptionist at a California bank when she took advantage of the state law and went on unpaid leave to have a baby in 1982; when she was ready to return to work, the position had been filled. Without her income, she was soon evicted and lost custody of her daughter, leading her to bring a suit against her former employer.

As TIME reported during the dispute, NOW and the ACLU ended up taking the bank’s side, preferring that employee benefits not be sex or gender-specific. “The question is, Should a woman with a pregnancy disability get her job back when other employees with disabilities get fired? You undermine your argument unless you say everyone is equally entitled to this benefit,” explained the ACLU’s Joan Bertin. In other words, anything that keeps an employee from working should be treated the same, whether or not it’s pregnancy, and no law should apply only to women. Meanwhile, feminist icon Betty Friedan and her allies saw things differently: in her view, the law treated everyone equally because it made clear that anyone, male or female, should be able to make decisions about having a family without the risk of losing his or her job.

“The time has come to acknowledge that women are different from men,’’ Friedan said. ‘’There has to be a concept of equality that takes into account that women are the ones who have the babies.’’

The next year, in 1987, the Supreme Court sided with Friedan, finding that the California law neither discriminated against men nor forced employers to treat women specially, as it did not bar companies from extending unpaid leave benefits to men as well.

TIME Supreme Court

Is This Pregnancy-Discrimination Case the Next Lilly Ledbetter?

Women's rights leader Lilly Ledbetter, namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, addresses the first session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 4, 2012.
Women's rights leader Lilly Ledbetter, namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, addresses the first session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 4, 2012. Jessica Rinaldi—Reuters

Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court found that treating pregnant women unfavorably was not sex discrimination. Two years later, Congress came back with an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 explicitly saying it was.

Almost four decades later, the high court is again considering a case of pregnancy discrimination, in a move that has baffled women’s rights activists.

“Here we are at the end of 2014, talking about pregnancy discrimination, which we women’s rights advocates thought we had addressed and basically fixed in 1978,” says Judith Lichtman, senior adviser at the National Partnership of Women and Families.

In the decades since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the act, says discrimination complaints have increased. In 1997, over 3,900 complaints were filed. In 2013, that number jumped to 5,342.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Young v. UPS, after which it will consider whether refusing to accommodate pregnant women in the workplace always amounts to discrimination.

In Young’s case, the former UPS employee was placed on unpaid medical leave soon after she asked that her duties be shifted after her doctor told her to avoid lifting heavy objects. The company refused, noting it only did that for certain workers including those who had sustained injuries while on the job or who were covered by the American Disabilities Act. Young was instead placed on unpaid leave and eventually, according to the petition, lost her health coverage.

The company says it had the legal right to deny Young’s request at the time, though UPS has since changed its policy and will allow pregnant workers to take alternative assignments when necessary starting next year. In its legal filings, the company argues that Young is seeking special treatment for pregnant employees, a standpoint shared by pro-business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They argue that would set an unwelcome precedent on other corporate policies.

“If Petitioner’s approach were adopted,” read an amicus brief filed by the Chamber of Commerce , “it would overturn the seniority policies of thousands of American businesses and frustrate the valid goals of these policies.”

Young and her supporters argue that pregnant workers whose doctors say should limit their work should be treated similarly to any other temporarily disabled employee.

The tide of opinion appears to be in their favor. A recent poll by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, found that 79% of Americans think the Supreme Court should support Young in the case. Twelve states and two cities including West Virginia, Texas, New York City and Philadelphia have laws that in some way require employers to accommodate workers whose abilities may be limited by their pregnancies. And in July, the EEOC issued guidelines that say employers should not “refuse to treat a pregnant worker the same as other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work by relying on a policy that makes distinctions based on the source of an employee’s limitation.”

Still, women’s groups are not sure that they’ll prevail before the Supreme Court. If that happened, the ball would be in Congress’ court, much like it was when the justices ruled against women claiming pregnancy discrimination back in 1976 — or, more recently, when the high court ruled against a woman who said she was not paid fairly in the Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. case. That ruling led directly to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which addressed the problem justices had with the statute. Congressional Democrats have already introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, says that the Young case can also help put a face on the problem of pregnancy discrimination, much like how Ledbetter’s case helped publicize the issue of pay gaps between men and women.

“Lilly Ledbetter epitomized and embodied what happens to a woman working throughout a lifetime who has been paid less systematically,” Greenberger said. “Peggy Young is at an earlier stage in her career and she epitomizes the kinds of barriers that are erected against women during their child-bearing years, including when they become pregnant.”

TIME Parenting

Pregnancy Is Not a Disability

Pregnant Caucasian woman holding stomach
Jamie—Getty Images

Bethany Ramos is a contributor to Mommyish.com.

Yes, many women struggle with high-risk pregnancies—and tomorrow's Supreme Court decision may address some of their needs. But the rest of us need to buck up

Within your lifetime, pregnancy is going to happen to you or someone you know. Lots of women get pregnant every day. In fact, there’s probably a woman getting pregnant right this very second, as we speak… Think about it. Pregnancy is coming to a town near you.

I’ve been pregnant twice, and it was hardly my favorite time in life. I am so very glad to be done having babies for ever and ever and ever, praise #vasectomyjesus. With that being said, I have a bone to pick with pregnant ladies everywhere. Pregnancy is a part of life. Pregnancy is normal. Pregnancy is not a unique or particularly difficult experience.

As a side note, I know there are women who fall into the high-risk pregnancy category. That is an entirely different subject, and this friendly pregnancy rant does not apply. I have close family members who have struggled with high-risk pregnancies, and my heart goes out to these women.

But normal pregnant women everywhere need to buck up and sign up for a 5K while you’re at it. It’s a common practice to change your life dramatically once you see those two pink lines on a pregnancy test. Of course, you should make healthy, positive changes in your life while carrying a child — like quitting the blow and eating more vegetables and getting enough sleep at night.

Still, it really chaps my ass when pregnant women complain about their dire circumstances to anyone who will listen (especially on social media). A pregnant woman may look at you with her sad doe eyes in the breakroom at work and sigh about how she wishes she could have a cup of coffee to wake her up in the morning. (Newsflash — unless your doctor said that you can’t have caffeine while pregnant, you can have at least a cup of coffee a day.)

The same sighing-and-hand-wringing routine applies to all of the supposed pregnancy no-no’s: wine, sushi, hot baths, intense exercise, flying, scooping cat litter. Some women may decide to stick to the pregnancy don’ts list to the letter, and that is their prerogative. I have absolutely nothing to say about a pregnant woman’s personal choices — unless she makes them my business by sighing and staring at me while I drink my coffee.

I didn’t love being pregnant, but I didn’t let it change my life for the worse. I still exercised like I normally did, ate all my favorite foods (and drinks) in moderation, and went out to non-smoky bars with friends when I felt up to it. Pregnancy isn’t that hard.

Bethany Ramos is a contributor to Mommyish.com, where this article originally appeared.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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