17 GOP Attorneys General Throw a Fit Over Pregnant Workers Having Rights

Led by Tennessee and Arkansas, over a dozen states are suing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission because they're requiring employers to offer unpaid time off for abortion care.

17 GOP Attorneys General Throw a Fit Over Pregnant Workers Having Rights
From left, Alabama AG Steve Marshall, Arkansas AG Tim Griffin, and Tennessee AG Jonathan Skrmetti. Photo: Shutterstock/via FOX 16 KLRT on YouTube/TN.gov

Earlier this month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued its final rules for how the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, passed in 2022, will be enforced. Among those rules—which are just some pretty fundamental requirements including that pregnant workers should be allowed to take bathroom breaks without retaliation—is a requirement that employers with more than 15 employees must provide unpaid time off if a worker needs to travel out-of-state for abortion care, or time to recover after having an abortion. There’s no requirement that employers pay for the abortion but predictably enough, Republican state attorneys general are still having a melt down.

At the end of last week, 17 state attorneys general, led by Tennessee and Arkansas, filed a lawsuit against the EEOC accusing the Biden administration of pushing a “radical” abortion agenda. “This is yet another attempt by the Biden administration to force through administrative fiat what it cannot get passed through Congress,” Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin said in a statement shared with NPR. “Under this radical interpretation of the PWFA, business owners will face federal lawsuits if they don’t accommodate employees’ abortions, even if those abortions are illegal under state law.”

I repeat: Employers won’t have to pay for someone’s abortion or abortion-related travel, and the EEOC’s regulation offers exceptions for religious employers. The finalized rules are an important step in the right direction in that, for the first time, employers will be required to make a good-faith effort to provide time off for someone to seek abortion care. But (unfortunately!) there’s simply no radical, pro-abortion agenda whatsoever being pushed here. 

As the regulation explicitly states: “This rulemaking does not require abortions or affect the availability of abortion; it simply ensures that employees who choose to have (or not to have) an abortion are able to continue participating in the workforce, by seeking reasonable accommodations from covered employers, as needed and absent undue hardship.”

Since the Senate voted on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in 2022, anti-abortion lawmakers have been trying to spin it as “radical” for addressing that workers who seek abortion care need protections. Republican senators opposing the bill claimed it was a backdoor to create government-funded, free abortion. Earlier this month, when the EEOC’s rules were published, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) called the regulations “shocking and illegal.” The conservative Alliance Defending Freedom inexplicably said Biden’s EEOC is trying to “smuggle an abortion mandate” into the law.

Arkansas and Tennessee are joined by the Republican attorneys general of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia in their suit against the EEOC. The finalized rules are set to take effect on June 18.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which first took effect last summer, was conceived when the organization A Better Balance: The Work & Family Legal Center said it was receiving calls from pregnant workers who said they were fired or professionally punished for asking for even minor accommodations. Before PWFA, most workers experiencing pregnancy-related medical conditions had no real protections or accommodations in the workplace—the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), for example, grants 12 weeks of unpaid time off after childbirth but it only applies to employers with at least 50 employees. About half of all U.S. workers can’t access unpaid time off under FMLA because they haven’t been at their jobs for long enough, and one in four mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth. 

A Better Balance’s co-president, Dina Bakst, called the lawsuit against the EEOC a “bad faith effort to politicize what is a vital protection for the health and economic security of millions of families, and a continuation of the alarming attacks on women’s health and reproductive choice” in a statement shared with Jezebel. “We condemn this lawsuit, brought by the Arkansas Attorney General and Tennessee Attorney General, among others, which baselessly attacks the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and its vital protections for pregnant and postpartum workers and workers with pregnancy-related conditions. The inclusion of time off for abortion as a reasonable accommodation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission appropriately reflects decades of legal precedent that define the parameters of a ‘pregnancy-related condition,'” Bakst said.

In any case, where Republicans are pissed about their imagined scenario of Biden’s EEOC forcing employers to perform abortions on their workers with their bare hands, the new rules have been widely praised. Shortly after the EEOC published its finalized rules, the ACLU thanked the agency for “recognizing that abortion has for decades been approved under the law as a ‘related medical condition’ to pregnancy that entitles workers to reasonable accommodations, including time off to obtain abortion care.”

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