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Pregnant Workers Fairness Act passes House but pro-life concerns linger

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The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (HR 2694) sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). Originally introduced in 2012, the bill was brought to a successful 329-73 vote in the House on September 17, 2020.

The Act was created “[t]o eliminate discrimination and promote women’s health and economic security by ensuring reasonable workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to perform the functions of a job are limited by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.” The bill, explained Rep. Nadler, would require employers “to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers so long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer.” He said it will keep “women and children healthier and safer.”

However, concern has been raised regarding the purposeful lack of an exemption for religious organizations.

In a statement regarding the bill, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) noted:

While well-intentioned, this legislation unfortunately does not include a long-standing provision from the Civil Rights Act which protects religious organizations from being forced to make employment decisions that conflict with their faith. 

To address this omission, Republicans offered an amendment to include this narrow but long-standing provision when the bill was considered by the Committee.

The Civil Rights Act protection, which already exists under current law, ensures religious organizations are not forced to make employment decisions that conflict with their faith.

Foxx summarized several amendments she and other colleagues proposed that were successfully added to the language of the bill but an amendment for religious exemption was voted down. Though Foxx did not specify examples of cases in which religious exemptions may be important, making accommodations to ensure a healthy pregnancy for employees could open the door for employers to be forced to accommodate for abortions for so-called health reasons such as a fetal diagnosis or a concern for the mother’s health. However, abortion — the direct and intentional killing of a child before birth — is never medically necessary.

READ: Mom of Lillian, who has spina bifida, says she ‘was offered an abortion at every visit’

“The purpose of America’s nondiscrimination laws, and the agencies enforcing them, is to give all Americans equal opportunities to succeed,” Foxx explained. “That being said, overzealous government intervention often causes more harm than good. In the case of H.R. 2694, by failing to include a long-standing Civil Rights Act provision, we are doing just that. As it is currently written, H.R. 2694 will create legal risk for religious organizations in their religiously based employment decisions.”

In addition to potentially accommodating abortions, the Act could lead to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission creating rules requiring employers to cover abortion, contraception, and sterilization in employer-sponsored health plans. Having a religious exemption in the Civil Rights Act but not in the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act could also cause confusion regarding what accommodations employers are or are not required to make.

The Act has moved to the Senate, where it has been assigned to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

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