May 28, 2024 // National

U.S. Bishops Join Lawsuit Regarding Federal Abortion Regulations

WASHINGTON, D.C. (OSV News) – The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, alongside other Catholic groups, filed suit on Wednesday, May 22, against a federal agency for including abortion in regulations implementing a law meant to add workplace protections for pregnant workers.

Final regulations for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in April, grant workers protections for time off and other job accommodations for pregnancy-related medical conditions such as miscarriage, stillbirth, and lactation – but also for abortion, which was opposed by many of the bill’s supporters, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Chieko Noguchi, USCCB Spokeswoman, told OSV News on Thursday, May 23, that the conference “enthusiastically supported passage of this law, because it had nothing to do with abortion.”

The conference, Noguchi said, supported the legislation’s “reasonable accommodations and things like paid time off and modified work schedules. … We supported that because we believe it’s important to help protect the well-being of expectant mothers and their preborn children,” she added. “But the EEOC, which is an unelected federal agency, hijacked the law, which doesn’t mention abortion at all,” she said, adding the EEOC’s regulation is “mandating that employers accommodate employee abortions.”

As such, she said, the regulation would, in effect, force the USCCB to “knowingly support employees as they get abortions, and it forbids us from encouraging them to choose life.”

“It bans us from operating in accordance with Church teaching,” Noguchi said. “So that’s why we have filed this lawsuit.”

The EEOC regulations govern the implementation of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, bipartisan legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in December of 2022. The law went into effect in June of 2023 and prohibits employment practices that discriminate against making reasonable accommodations for qualified employees due to their pregnancy, childbirth “or related medical conditions.” The final regulations for the law were published this past April.

On April 19, Bishop Rhoades, acting as Chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty for the USCCB, issued a statement condemning the EEOC’s implementation of the 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 in his statement, released prior to the announcment of the U.S. bishops joining the lawsuit against the EEOC.

“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,” Bishop Rhoades continued. “No employer should be forced to participate in an employee’s decision to end the life of their child.”

Many pro-life activists, including the USCCB, supported the legislation. But the EEOC regulation governing the implementation of that law, issued after it was enacted, 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.

Becket, a Washington, D.C.-based religious liberty law firm, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana on behalf of the USCCB, as well as The Catholic University of America and the dioceses of Lake Charles and Lafayette in Louisiana. The complaint, filed in in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, states that “Congress was right and EEOC is wrong.”

“The PWFA is not an abortion accommodation mandate. Rather, it fills a gap in federal employment law by ensuring pregnant women receive workplace accommodations to protect their pregnancies and their preborn children,” it said.

Daniel Blomberg, Vice President and Senior Counsel for Becket, told OSV News that the case is important because the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act itself is a “really good law.”

“It’s about protecting pregnant women and their children in the workplace,” Blomberg said. “The idea is that you want to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy childbirth, and that’s great for a healthy country. That’s why the USCCB supported that law. That’s why a lot of folks supported this bipartisan law.”

But the law, he said, “has been hijacked by a partisan EEOC that is trying to use a law about healthy pregnancy to force abortion on employers nationwide, including religious employers, and that’s just not right.”

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