States sue to block U.S. rule including abortion in maternity-related leave

WASHINGTON (BP) – A coalition of 17 states that outlaw abortion is suing the federal government for naming employee leave for elective abortions as a benefit of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA).

PWFA mandates that employers make accommodations including leave and relief from certain job responsibilities to ensure the safety of workers experiencing pregnancy and related conditions – unless it creates an undue burden – and directs the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to define and provide examples of “related conditions” within the law’s scope.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is among many who have advocated to block abortion from PWFA’s scope.

“The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was passed by Congress to be a pro-mother and pro-life law. Despite this intent being clearly articulated by the sponsors of the bill in debate and in public comments, the Biden Administration is determined to use this law as another tool to destroy life and violate the consciences of Christian employers,” Hannah Daniel, EEOC director of public policy, told Baptist Press. “Both expectant mothers and preborn children deserve our care and support, not assistance in obtaining an abortion.”

Tennessee and Arkansas, two states that outlaw nearly all abortions, led the coalition in suing the EEOC April 25 to block the inclusion of elective abortion in pregnancy-related conditions employers must accommodate.

“Congress passed the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to protect mothers-to-be and promote healthy pregnancies, and the EEOC’s attempt to rewrite that law into an abortion mandate is illegal,” Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti said in a press release announcing the lawsuit.

Congress passed PWFA in 2021 with bipartisan support, prohibiting “practices that discriminate against making reasonable accommodations for qualified employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” according to a summary of the bill at

Skrmetti described PWFA as a pro-family measure intended to fill a gap in federal law and termed the inclusion of abortion as “unconstitutional federal overreach that infringes on existing state laws and exceeds the scope of the agency’s authority.”

The EEOC issued its final guidance on PWFA April 15, stating among other rules “that certain medical conditions ( e.g. lactation, miscarriage, stillbirth, having or choosing not to have an abortion, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and HELLP (hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelets syndrome) have a relation to pregnancy or childbirth.”

Regardless of the list of related medical conditions, EEOC said employer-sponsored health plans are not required to “pay for or cover any particular item, procedure or treatment.”

EEOC’s list of covered conditions is not exhaustive, the commission said, and “neither requires blanket accommodation for every condition listed nor precludes accommodations for conditions that are not listed.”

Among the more than 100,000 responses EEOC received from the public before finalizing its guidance, the states said in their lawsuit, were “tens of thousands of commenters” opposing the inclusion of abortion in related conditions, including the Republican sponsors of the original legislation. EEOC also submitted a letter opposing the inclusion of abortion in the law.

Abortion is “something the act clearly did not authorize,” the states said in their claim.

“If the EEOC’s rule stands, the State of Tennessee, the co-plaintiff states, and countless employers will be forced to allocate resources to support elective abortions or face federal liability,” Skrmetti wrote, “even in states that have lawfully chosen to restrict elective abortions.”

Joining Tennessee and Arkansas in the lawsuit are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.)

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