The Catholic advocacy organization cautioned in November that, in the context of the current legal system and culture at large, “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” includes both contraception and abortion.
The group quoted Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina: “If an employee working for a religious organization requests time off to have an abortion procedure, H.R. 1065 could require the organization to comply with this request as a reasonable accommodation of known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”
In the Senate, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky expressed similar concerns, with a spokesperson telling CNA: “The bill could force religious employers to provide accommodations that arise from an abortion, which could violate the free exercise of their religious beliefs.”
Responding to concerns, a Republican Senate aide told CNA in a statement that “the legislation as introduced does not supersede current law protections for religious employers, which is why this legislation is endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”
Unlike the House version, the current version of the PWFA being considered in the Senate explicitly states in its text that the legislation would not require employer-sponsored health plans to pay for certain things — such as abortion.
Under section 7, it specifies that “Nothing in this Act shall be construed … by regulation or otherwise, to require an employer-sponsored health plan to pay for or cover any particular item, procedure, or treatment or to affect any right or remedy available under any other federal, state, or local law with respect to any such payment or coverage requirement.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also supports the PWFA, saying that “no one should be forced to choose between their job and a healthy pregnancy.” While Congress has outlawed pregnancy discrimination, the ACLU warns that employers routinely deny pregnant workers temporary job modifications, from more frequent breaks and schedule changes to reassignment of hazardous tasks.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.
The act’s text mirrors the PWFA: “The terms ‘because of sex’ or ‘on the basis of sex’ include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” it reads.
It also clarifies: “This subsection shall not require an employer to pay for health insurance benefits for abortion,” except in cases where the mother’s life is endangered or where there are medical complications arising from an abortion.
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The U.S. bishops stress the difference between the 1978 act and the PWFA in a backgrounder.
“While the current set of laws requires an employer to have already made an accommodation for a different worker and for the pregnant worker to be aware of this instance before a reasonable modification is required, the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act begins by asking if an accommodation is possible,” the bishops say. “This approach is modeled after the well-established Americans with Disabilities Act framework, with which employers are already familiar.”