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White House issues worker protections for pregnancy termination

Republicans say such a move contradicts congressional intent

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rule implements a 2022 law that requires certain employers to offer reasonable accommodations to pregnant and postpartum employees.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rule implements a 2022 law that requires certain employers to offer reasonable accommodations to pregnant and postpartum employees. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Biden administration Monday issued regulations enforcing worker protections for women who have had abortions, miscarriages or fertility issues that require time off work, despite heavy Republican opposition to the move.

The regulation from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission implements congressional legislation that requires certain employers to offer reasonable accommodations to pregnant and postpartum employees. The rule clarifies that the commission includes abortion in its definition of “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” covered by the law.

The bill, known as the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, was passed in 2022 as part of the fiscal 2023 appropriations law. The regulations are the final rules to carry out the law’s provisions.

House Democrats encouraged the administration to include abortion, miscarriage and fertility issues as a “related medical condition,” but received pushback from Republicans on Capitol Hill. The Democrats argued that a 1978 law preventing discrimination on the basis of pregnancy includes abortion and pregnancy termination as a medical condition related to pregnancy, so that should apply to the new law.

But Republicans argued that including abortion and pregnancy termination in the pregnant workers accommodations regulation contradicts congressional intent of providing reasonable accommodations to pregnant and postpartum workers.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, the top Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the lead Senate Republican on the 2022 bill, argued that including abortion in the final regulation unnecessarily “inject[s] abortion politics” into the law.

“The Biden administration must enforce the law as passed by Congress, not how they wish it were passed. The decision to disregard the legislative process to promote a political agenda is shocking and illegal,” Cassidy said in a statement on Monday.

The law currently does not apply to Texas state employees, though.

In February, a Texas federal court ruled that proxy voting in Congress — a common pandemic practice — doesn’t count toward a quorum.

The majority of lawmakers who voted for the bill that included the worker protection law in 2022 voted by proxy, which has spurred Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to argue the law is unenforceable in his state.

The ruling in the case, Texas v. Garland, was applauded by Republicans.

Still, Julie Marie Blake, senior counsel for the conservative Alliance for Defending Freedom, said including abortion in the rules implementing the legislation is “hijacking a bipartisan law that doesn’t even mention abortion.”

The regulation goes into effect 60 days from April 19, which is when it will be published in the Federal Register.

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