Republicans Melt Down Over Worker Protections for Pregnancy-Related Conditions

Sen. Bill Cassidy accused the EEOC of injecting "a political abortion agenda" into its proposed interpretation of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

Republicans Melt Down Over Worker Protections for Pregnancy-Related Conditions
From left, Republican Senators Bill Cassidy, Thom Tillis, and Rand Paul, all of whom have expressed concern that new workplace protections for pregnant people entail mandated abortion coverage. Photo:Getty Images

In December, a common-sense law that would allow pregnant workers to take bathroom breaks was temporarily stalled by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), as Tillis claimed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would be weaponized to establish government-funded “abortions on demand.” If only! Now, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Monday put forth proposed rules for implementing the law, Republicans are melting down again—this time because abortion is among the numerous potential pregnancy-related medical conditions for which employers are to provide accommodations.

To be clear, abortion is not a focus of the newly proposed rules. Politico noted the EEOC’s proposal uses an “expansive definition” for pregnancy-related medical conditions, including contraception, menstruation, lactation, fertility treatments, pregnancy loss, and “having or choosing not to have an abortion.” Abortions can have side effects, so it makes sense to include accommodations for workers who may be recovering from receiving abortion care. (Such rules are not unprecedented: In 2021, Portland, Oregon, began offering workers paid leave for not just miscarriage and stillbirth, but also abortion.)

The EEOC has made it clear that nothing in the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act “requires or forbids an employer to pay for health insurance benefits for an abortion.” EEOC chair Charlotte Burrows has said the proposed regulations promote “the economic security and health of pregnant and postpartum workers” by helping them to continue working.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)—who partnered with Senate Democrats to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act last year—is joining Thillis and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who argued in December that the law “could force religious employers to provide accommodations that arise from an abortion, which could violate the free exercise of their religious beliefs.” In a statement on Wednesday, Cassidy accused the EEOC of “going rogue” for its very moderate inclusion of abortion as a protected pregnancy-related medical condition. “These regulations completely disregard legislative intent and attempt to rewrite the law by regulation,” Cassidy said. “The decision to disregard the legislative process to inject a political abortion agenda is illegal and deeply concerning.”

Cassidy is also backed by the far-right anti-abortion group Alliance Defending Freedom, which said in a statement to Politico that the EEOC is trying “to smuggle an abortion mandate into a transformational pro-life, pro-woman law.”

At the time the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced, co-sponsor Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) said on the Senate floor that under the law, “The EEOC could not issue any regulation that requires abortion leave, nor does the act permit the EEOC to require employers to provide abortion leave in violation of state law.” And that isn’t what the EEOC is proposing.

“As the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is implemented, it’s important that we do not lose sight of the heart of this law: to ensure pregnant workers aren’t forced to choose between their jobs and healthy pregnancies, including some of the most vulnerable women in the workplace,” Casey said in a statement shared with Jezebel. The senator also called for the EEOC’s rulemaking process to “proceed swiftly to ensure these workers can get the protections they need.”

The office of Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who partnered with Casey to introduce the law, didn’t immediately respond to Jezebel’s request for comment on the EEOC’s proposal. In December, Murray called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act “a fundamentally bipartisan bill” with the purpose of ensuring no one is forced “to choose between their job and a healthy pregnancy.” The bill’s language states that companies must offer “reasonable accommodations to the known limitations” extending from “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, several companies have offered a range of abortion-related benefits—much to the ire of Republican lawmakers, including some in Texas who introduced legislation to crack down on them last summer. In the Senate, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) has spent the last six months stalling military confirmations to punish the Pentagon for offering abortion-related benefits. Covering abortion-related expenses, of course, is the least that employers should be doing as the government continues to fail pregnant people and workers. But unfortunately, despite Republicans’ predictable whining, that doesn’t seem to be what EEOC is mandating at all.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin