Anti-Abortion Republicans Block Bill To Give Pregnant Workers Basic Accommodations
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) speaks at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 28, 2021. He recently opposed a vote on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.
Three Senate Republicans who oppose abortion blocked a bipartisan bill that would afford pregnant people basic workplace accommodations, such as a water bottle, a stool or extra bathroom breaks.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) opposed a vote on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act late last week, inaccurately claiming that it would force employers to “provide accommodations such as leave to obtain abortions on demand under the guise of pregnancy-related condition.” Tillis, a vocal abortion opponent, spoke on the Senate floor on Thursday on behalf of himself and two of his Republican colleagues, Sens. James Lankford (Okla.) and Steve Daines (Mont.).
“I and a number of other people do not believe that abortion is health care. I believe it’s a brutal procedure that destroys an innocent child,” Tillis said. “The federal government should not be promoting abortion, let alone mandating that pro-life employers and employers in states that protect life facilitate abortion on demand.” Tillis, Lankford and Daines did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
But the bill would do no such thing. Instead, it offers basic protections for pregnant workers, including reasonable accommodations often not afforded to pregnant women who continue working throughout their pregnancies. And most other Republicans are on board with the legislation.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act has received an overwhelming amount of bipartisan support. Anti-abortion Republicans are hoping to support fetuses and mothers, while Democrats are looking to support pregnant people in a post-Roe v. Wade landscape.
The bill passed out of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) with a 19-2 vote and cleared the House with massive bipartisan support. Republican Sens. Mike Braun (Ind.) and Tommy Tuberville (Ala.) were the only members of the Health and Education committee to vote against the legislation, though neither opposed unanimous consent in the Senate.
“It is the highest hypocrisy that lawmakers are blocking the passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act… at a time where millions of Americans cannot access abortion care and may be forced to carry pregnancies to term that they do not want or planned for, and can then be legally pushed out of their jobs,” said Dana Sussman, the acting executive director of Pregnancy Justice.
“Their disdain and disregard for people with the capacity for pregnancy is boundless,” Sussman said.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a co-sponsor of the bill, responded to Tillis’ inaccurate claims on the Senate floor.
“I regret that my colleague has objected to this bill, but I reject the characterization that this would do anything to promote abortion,” he said.
Cassidy related an anecdote from a pregnant Louisville, Kentucky, police officer who could not receive accommodations because her employer offered them only for injury-related issues. If she tried to use the injury-related accommodation during her pregnancy, she would lose her insurance at five months pregnant.
“I think even those that oppose would agree that we need to have a safe environment for pregnant women and their unborn children in the workplace,” Cassidy said. “I would say that this bill is pro-family, pro-mother, pro-baby, pro-employer and pro-economy. I hope at a later point we can pass.”
Thirty states and Washington, D.C., currently have laws that protect pregnant workers and grant them workplace accommodations. The need for a federal law has arguably never been more important given that the Supreme Court recently overturned federal protections for abortion care, allowing over a dozen states to ban abortion and force many to continue with unwanted pregnancies.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who sponsored the bill alongside Cassidy, also clarified inaccurate claims about the legislation, telling Tillis on the Senate floor that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) “could not issue any regulation that requires abortion leave nor does the act permit the EEOC to require employers to provide abortion leave in violation of state law.” Cassidy added earlier that the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would not change Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination, including based on religion.
“There is no reason to stand in the way. We can send this to the president’s desk right now,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the HELP committee chair.
“This is very simple: Give pregnant workers a break, give them a seat and give them a hand. Give them the dignity, the respect and basic workplace accommodations that they need,” she said. “This is way overdue, and I can’t think of a more common-sense, less controversial bill.”
Lawmakers are pushing to get another opportunity for a vote before the end of the month, though a date has yet to be set.