A GOP Senator Is Stalling a Bill to Let Pregnant Workers Take Bathroom Breaks

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) is holding the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act hostage over abortion, which the bill doesn't even mention.

A GOP Senator Is Stalling a Bill to Let Pregnant Workers Take Bathroom Breaks
Photo:Anna Moneymaker (Getty Images)

On Thursday, Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) spoke on the Senate floor to seek unanimous consent to advance the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) for a roll call vote. But the common-sense bill, which affords pregnant workers basic protections, is now being held up by a lone Republican senator: Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

According to Tillis, the bill—which would ensure pregnant workers receive accommodations like water bottles, stools, and bathroom breaks—is akin to government-funded “abortions on demand.” “As the husband of a wife who had two children while she was working and the grandfather of two grandchildren with a daughter who’s a nurse, I absolutely want to make sure those sort of reasonable accommodations are accounted for,” Tillis said. “However, in its current form, this legislation before us would give federal bureaucrats at the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] authority to mandate that employers nationwide provide accommodations such as leave to obtain abortions on demand, under the guise of pregnancy-related conditions.”

I almost have to give Tillis points for creativity, because… where did he get that from? In Murray’s floor remarks, the Washington senator explained that the bill is about ensuring no one is forced “to choose between their job and a healthy pregnancy.” Per the bill’s language, it requires companies to offer “reasonable accommodations to the known limitations” extending from “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” PWFA doesn’t even mention abortion. And, considering anti-abortion Republicans like Tillis are the reason exponentially more people will be forced to remain pregnant, and by extension, become pregnant workers, his opposition to the bill is especially cruel.

“It is outrageous that pregnant women in our country have been pushed out of their jobs by their employers because they asked for an additional bathroom break, because their doctors say they need to avoid heavy lifting, or because their employer can’t be bothered to provide a stool so they can sit down,” Murray said on the Senate floor. She called PWFA “a fundamentally bipartisan bill,” which she worked closely on with Senate Republicans like Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Richard Burr (R-NC). PWFA also overwhelmingly passed the House across party lines.

Unfortunately, Tillis isn’t the only one spreading misinformation about PWFA. The anti-abortion group CatholicVote has also erroneously claimed it could “force” employers to pay for abortion-related expenses. In the House, Rep. Virginia Foxx of (R-NC) expressed similar concerns, as did Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in a statement to the anti-abortion publication Catholic News Agency on Wednesday. A spokesperson for Paul claimed the bill “could force religious employers to provide accommodations that arise from an abortion, which could violate the free exercise of their religious beliefs.”

I, personally, would love for legislation to provide paid leave to workers who have abortions, and in general. Last year, Portland, Oregon, became the first city in the nation to offer workers paid leave for miscarriage, stillbirth, or any other pregnancy loss, including abortion. That is, however, not even remotely what PWFA is.

In their bonkers, galaxy-brained opposition to PWFA, Senators Tillis and Paul and other anti-abortion activists seem to be referencing companies that have spoken up about covering abortion-related costs for employees. Notably, these company-specific policies tend to fall short and leave too many pregnant people behind. And as we’re seeing in Texas, some state-level legislation is already cracking down on them, opening the door for civil lawsuits and other penalties.

So, not only do these company policies hardly present a solution to the crisis of post-Roe America but, mind you, they also have nothing to do with PWFA. And for as long as the bill is stalled, thanks to Tillis, pregnant workers risk being fired for needing to pee on the job.

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