In December 2022, Congress passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), a pro-life bill that aimed to make the workplace more accessible to pregnant women by requiring employers to provide accommodations to pregnant workers under The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This bill was implemented at the end of June 2023. However, a federal agency is manipulating the bill’s language to require that employers provide accommodations for abortion.
What the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was supposed to achieve
Sponsors of the bill repeatedly stated that the PWFA was a low-impact bill that would only require “common sense” accommodations—a bottle of water, relief from carrying heavy objects, a stool—to ensure pregnant women can safely remain in the workforce. On the surface, this legislation was promising from a pro-life perspective because it removes barriers to women choosing life instead of abortion. For example, lower income women would be able to work later in their pregnancy, financially equipping them to care for their precious preborn life.
As a result, the PWFA received broad bipartisan support in Congress and from a variety of advocacy groups. Pro-labor groups were supportive of the labor protections it provided to pregnant workers, and many pro-life groups were supportive of the opportunity to help pregnant women choose the path of life.
What happened during the implementation of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?
However, the initial bipartisan support for the PWFA has not continued into the implementation of the bill. The PWFA requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations to a worker’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation will cause the employer an undue hardship.” However, the bill does not define what is considered a “reasonable accommodation,” or what is considered a “related medical condition.”
When there is such vague language included in a bill, Congress will often delegate implementation of the bill to a federal agency. The agency will then release additional guidance, known as “rulemaking,” which dictates how the bill will be implemented. At that point, entities like the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) can submit comments on the rulemaking that share concerns regarding such guidance.
In the case of the PWFA, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was given rulemaking authority. In July, the rules were released, and they directly contradicted the intent of Congress. Not only was “reasonable accommodation” interpreted to include additional paid leave, but the EEOC included abortion in the definition of “related medical conditions.” The PWFA would now essentially require employers to provide medical leave for women to end the life of their child through an abortion.
Such rulemaking directly contradicts the intent of Congress and the pro-life advocacy groups who hoped the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would help mothers choose life.
The bill’s primary Democratic sponsor, Sen. Casey, assured pro-life organizations that the bill was “straightforward … [and would] allow pregnant workers to request reasonable accommodations so that they can continue working safely during pregnancy and upon returning to work after childbirth.”
The bill’s primary Republican sponsor, Sen. Cassidy, echoed those assurances and strongly opposed the EEOC’s actions saying, “These regulations completely disregard legislative intent and attempt to rewrite the law by regulation…The decision to disregard the legislative process to inject a political abortion agenda is illegal and deeply concerning.”
These statements alone should unequivocally eliminate abortion from being considered a pregnancy related medical condition.
How the ERLC responded
Every life matters because every life is created in the image of God. Therefore, the ERLC responded to this rule by submitting public comments, pushing back on the EEOC’s attempt to insert abortion into a life-affirming law. In these comments, the ERLC shared the longstanding history of Southern Baptists in advocating for pro-life legislation, supporting pregnant mothers, and opposing overreach by the federal government to subsidize the abortion industry.
God has spoken clearly throughout Scripture to the value and dignity of every human being as created in the image of God and to the goodness of his design for every aspect of human life in accordance with his will (Gen. 1:26-30; Matt. 19:4; Luke 12:22–31; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; 1 Pet. 1:13-16).
It is clear that the intent of Congress in passing the PWFA was to help pregnant mothers have healthy pregnancies and babies, not to expand access to abortion. The ERLC will continue to advocate for healthy mothers and preborn babies and urges Southern Baptists to join us in praying for abortion to be removed from the list of pregnancy related medical conditions.
Additionally, we urge the sponsors of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to exhibit leadership and boldness by safeguarding the responsibility of Congress to legislate fairly and honestly and resist the urge to cave to the EEOC’s deceptive approach to rulemaking through filing public comments of their own. In doing so, the ERLC believes both the lives of preborn children and the consciences of employers will be protected.