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Abortion included in pregnant workers protections law


Abortion included in pregnant workers protections law

Apr 18, 2024 | 1:49 pm ET
By Elisha Brown
Abortion included in pregnant workers protections law
Advocates, legislators, and pregnant workers rally on Capitol Hill in support of The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act on Dec. 1, 2022 in Washington, D.C. The amendment was included in the federal spending bill signed by President Joe Biden at the end of the year. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for A Better Balance)

Rules on how employers can comply with a federal law that provides protections for pregnant workers are set to take effect in roughly two months.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provided clarity to employers and employees about the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) on Monday. Under the statute, employers with 15 or more workers must grant pregnant workers’ requests for accommodations, as long as the changes don’t pose “undue hardship” on the employer.

Congress passed the PWFA in December 2022, and the law took effect in June 2023. But the EEOC allowed considerable time for public comment on proposed rules.

Roughly 100,000 comments were submitted to the commission, including about 54,000 urging the agency to exclude abortion from the definition of “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions,” and some 40,000 supporting the inclusion of abortion.

Ultimately, the commission decided to include abortion as a condition for which workers can seek accommodations, such as time off. The decision was based on the plain text of the measure, according to a 400-page document explaining PWFA guidance. The rules will be published in the Federal Register on Friday, but they don’t take effect until 60 days later.

“The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a win for workers, families, and our economy. It gives pregnant workers clear access to reasonable accommodations that will allow them to keep doing their jobs safely and effectively, free from discrimination and retaliation,” said Charlotte Burrows, the EEOC chair, in a statement.

Under the law, pregnant workers and prospective employees should be allowed: water breaks, food breaks, restroom breaks, a stool to sit on while working, time off for doctors’ appointments, temporary reassignments and remote work, for example. Americans with jobs can also ask for accommodations when they’re recovering from abortion, lactation, infertility treatments, miscarriages and stillbirths.

Organizations that support gender equality in the workplace celebrated the rules’ finalization.

“The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a life-changing protection for pregnant and postpartum workers nationwide, ensuring they aren’t forced off the job or denied the accommodations they need for their health,” said Dina Bakst, co-president of A Better Balance, in a statement. Bakst’s group has pushed for the legislation’s passage for more than a decade.

States Newsroom economy reporter Casey Quinlan previously reported that the law was crafted to address gaps in the civil rights measures, such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination against pregnant employees but requires someone to find a colleague who was given similar accommodations for comparison. A 2022 poll found that 1 in 5 mothers have experienced pregnancy discrimination at work.

“This is an important moment for pregnant workers, those with pregnancy difficulties or complications, and those who are considering having a baby,” said Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Frye said the rules will strengthen “protections for millions of workers, in spite of recent extreme partisan attempts to overturn this bipartisan law.” Abortion rights opponents criticized the determination that abortion counts as a pregnancy-related condition.

“Adding this controversial provision into the PWFA is wrong. Period,” said U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, in a statement this week. “Abortion is not a medical condition related to pregnancy; it is the opposite.” Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative law firm, said in August that the inclusion of abortion as a reasonable accommodation was “federal overreach.”

The law has also been subject to litigation. A federal judge recently blocked the enforcement of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in Texas after Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton sued President Joe Biden’s administration over its passage and other provisions in a 2022 $1.7 trillion spending package. Paxton argued that the act was unconstitutional because it was passed by proxy votes, Texas Tribune reported.

Adam Cyr, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice, declined to comment Wednesday on whether the agency will appeal the decision to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Texas: Won’t let you have an abortion but also won’t do anything to help you have a safe and healthy pregnancy,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said in a statement to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star in February after the ruling. Casey co-sponsored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and first introduced the bill in 2012.