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Federal court temporarily blocks Biden’s attempt to force all employers to pay for workers’ abortions

  The United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana has temporarily blocked the administration of President Joe Biden&#...

 The United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana has temporarily blocked the administration of President Joe Biden's attempt to interpret the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) to mean that all employers, regardless of religious belief or affiliation, are mandated to pay for the abortions of their workers.

In late December 2022, Congress passed the PWFA, which requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide "reasonable accommodations" for employees with pregnancy-related needs. This bipartisan legislation came into effect on June 27, 2023.

However, Biden's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) proposed a rule that seeks to expand the definition of "pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions" under the PWFA to include "having or choosing not to have an abortion." In April, the EEOC issued a final regulation, to become effective on June 18, with extensive interpretive guidance relating to the implementation of the PWFA.

As a response, the Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, joined by the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, filed a federal lawsuit last month to block its enforcement.

In 2022, lawmakers, including Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Mary Miller (R-IL), opposed the interpretation of EEOC. Foxx and Miller argued that the PWFA's text did not mention abortion and was not intended to mandate abortion accommodations. They stressed the legislative record, which they say explicitly confirms that the PWFA was not designed to compel employers to support abortion. 

The court issued a temporary injunction on June 17, asserting that "EEOC has exceeded its statutory authority to implement the PWFA." The ruling criticized the EEOC for attempting to override Congressional intent and infringe upon state sovereignty.

"'Abortion' is a term that is readily understood by everyone," the ruling noted. "If Congress had intended to mandate that employers accommodate elective abortions under the PWFA, it would have spoken clearly when enacting the statute, particularly given the enormous social, religious, and political importance of the abortion issue in our nation."

"The EEOC twisted a law protecting expecting mothers and their babies and co-opted the workplaces of over 130 million Americans to support abortion," Becket attorney Laura Wolk Slavis responded. "That is an abuse of power; no one should have to choose between their conscience and protecting pregnant women… This ruling is an important step in ensuring that American workplaces can be free to continue serving their communities consistent with their beliefs."

Pro-lifers warned lawmakers beforehand about the potential threats EEOC could pose to religious employers

In 2022, critics warned that the lack of specific protections for religious organizations and its broad definitions could be used to infringe on pro-life employers’ conscience rights.

"Under the bill… pro-life groups can be sued if they don’t provide their employees special leave to get abortions," Tom McClusky, the director of government affairs for Catholic Vote, said at that time. "I’m surprised some pro-life groups that aren’t covered under RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] don’t seem to realize how this bill would impact their own operations."

Erika Ahern of Catholic Vote echoed a similar statement. Ahern stressed the potential of the EEOC to interpret the provisions in PWFA that could conflict with pro-life and Catholic beliefs.

"The EEOC does not typically act in a way that aligns with pro-life or Catholic views. In general, the EEOC has interpreted 'pregnancy-related' discrimination issues to include protecting workers’ ‘right’ to abortion," Ahern wrote.

But despite these warnings, the bill still garnered support from religious organizations like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which applauded the PWFA's "efforts which demonstrate a respect for life, family and the dignity of workers."

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