April 23, 2024 // National

Including Abortion in Pregnant Workers Act is ‘Indefensible,’ Bishop Rhoades Says

(OSV News) – Following the publication of final regulations for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, Bishop Rhoades stressed the importance of safeguarding workplace conscience protections while also expressing concerns with aspects of the legislation aimed at protecting time off and other job accommodations for pregnancy-related medical conditions such as miscarriage, stillbirth, and lactation – but also for abortion.

In his role as Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, Bishop Rhoades argued in a statement released on Friday, April 19, that in implementing the regulations to include abortion, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defied congressional intent to protect pregnant workers by adding abortion to the list of related medical conditions covered by the otherwise pro-life law.

“The bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, as written, is a pro-life law that protects the security and physical health of pregnant mothers and their preborn children,” Bishop Rhoades said. “It is indefensible for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to twist the law in a way that violates the consciences of pro-life employers by making them facilitate abortions. No employer should be forced to participate in an employee’s decision to end the life of their child.”

The regulations govern the implementation of the bipartisan legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in December of 2022 and went into effect in June of 2023. The law prohibits employment practices that discriminate against making reasonable accommodations for qualified employees due to their pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

But a rule proposed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August of 2023 governing the implementation of that law contained broad language including abortion among “related medical conditions,” and the potential circumstances for which employers may have to grant workplace accommodations, such as time off for medical appointments or additional rest breaks.

In an April 15 statement, EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said, “The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a win for workers, families, and our economy.” She added, “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,” Burrows said.

Dr. Verda J. Hicks, President of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement that the legislation “plays a critical role in protecting the health and improving the lives and well-being of people during and after pregnancy and in ensuring that people are able to continue working without jeopardizing their health.”

Hicks said the “broad, compassionate application of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will ensure that fewer workers are subject to unfair treatment, recrimination, or retaliation as a result of or after a pregnancy.”

But in a statement, U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the rule “goes well beyond EEOC’s authority.”

“The PWFA was intended to ensure employers provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees,” Foxx said. “The PWFA does not apply to abortions. The term ‘abortion’ is not once mentioned in the law. Instead of following congressional intent, the Biden administration is using the regulatory process to advance radical policy goals.”

Many pro-life organizations, as well as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, backed the passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, but have criticized the Biden administration’s inclusion of abortion in regulations implementing the law.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, Chair of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said in August of 2023 the bishops supported the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act because it was “pro-worker, pro-family, and pro-life.” He called it “a total distortion to use this law as a means for advancing abortion, and the complete opposite of needed assistance for pregnant mothers.”

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