A woman is prescribed pills to terminate her pregnancy

A resident gives a 25-year-old woman medication to terminate her pregnancy on June 23, 2022 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

(Photo: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Biden Admin Unveils New Rules Protecting Workers Who Get Abortion Care

"With these final rules, we have achieved a huge step forward for women's economic security, maternal health, and the economy as a whole," said one advocate.

Reproductive justice advocates on Monday applauded the Biden administration's "groundbreaking" new workplace protections for pregnant people, including requirements that most employers provide workers with time off for a range of pregnancy-related reasons—including, over the objections of right-wing lawmakers, abortion care.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a final rule and guidance for employers, clarifying that under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), companies with 15 or more employees must accommodate a worker's needs if they request time off for "pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions" including prenatal doctor's appointments, childbirth recovery, postpartum depression, miscarriage, and abortion.

The guidance also details the wide array of accommodations pregnant workers can request under the law, including exemptions from heavy lifting and scheduling changes for people who suffer from pregnancy symptoms like nausea or morning sickness.

The PWFA was passed in December 2022 and went into effect several months later, but the EEOC's newly finalized regulations detail how the law must be enforced, including in states with abortion bans and restrictions.

The commission has spent the last four months sorting through tens of thousands of public comments on the proposed regulations, including those from reproductive rights groups which urged the EEOC to explicitly include protections for people who seek abortion care—and forced pregnancy proponents to objected to the provisions.

Under the final rules, employers are required to provide time off for workers who ask for it to obtain an abortion locally or who need to travel out of state for care. The regulations include strong restrictions against retaliating against workers for taking time off for any pregnancy-related reason.

"This rulemaking does not require abortions or affect the availability of abortion; it simply ensures that employees who choose to have (or not to have) an abortion are able to continue participating in the workforce, by seeking reasonable accommodations from covered employers, as needed and absent undue hardship," the regulation states.

In its comment submitted to the EEOC about its draft rule before the final regulations were announced, the ACLU thanked the agency for "recognizing that abortion has for decades been approved under the law as a 'related medical condition' to pregnancy that entitles workers to reasonable accommodations, including time off to obtain abortion care."

Employers will not be required to pay for workers' medical care or travel, and the time off can be paid or unpaid.

But advocates said the protections will make a particular impact on low-wage workers, many of whom are not eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act, which only requires 12 weeks of unpaid time off for workplaces with 50 or more employees.

Before the PWFA was passed in 2022, 1 in 4 new mothers returned to work within two weeks of giving birth.

The national group Reproductive Freedom for All said the new rules will help ensure "that reproductive freedom is a reality for all pregnant workers."

The EEOC's effort to finalize the regulations has sparked anger among Republicans including Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who called the inclusion of abortion in the rules "shocking and illegal."

But Dr. Verda Hicks, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), said the regulations are an "acknowledgment of people's complex needs during and after pregnancy."

"Families should have peace of mind that they won't face financial hardship due to pregnancy-related job loss, and workers who are pregnant should not have to fear compromising their own health and well-being to maintain their employment," said Hicks. "Pregnancy is physiologically demanding and many of the medical conditions related to pregnancy necessitate reasonable accommodations for people after their pregnancy has ended."

Dina Bakst, co-president of A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center, said the new regulations "appropriately recognize the broad scope of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and ensure millions of workers, especially women in low-wage and physically demanding jobs, can access the vital accommodations they need during pregnancy and after childbirth."

"Today with these final rules, we have achieved a huge step forward for women's economic security, maternal health, and the economy as a whole," said Bakst, who has lobbied for years for pregnancy workplace protections. "The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a life-changing protection for pregnant and postpartum workers nationwide, ensuring they aren't forced off the job or denied the accommodations they need for their health."

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