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Court temporarily blocks enforcement of EEOC abortion provision in challenge by USCCB, others

A pregnant woman is seen outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington in this 2016 file photo. A federal court in Louisiana June 17, 2024, issued a temporary injunction blocking the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from enforcing an abortion provision in regulations meant to add workplace protections for pregnant workers against Catholic ministries who challenged them. The ruling comes in lawsuit filed May 22 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and other Catholic groups. (OSV News photo/Tyler Orsburn, CNS)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — A federal court in Louisiana has issued a temporary injunction blocking a federal agency from enforcing an abortion provision in regulations meant to add workplace protections for pregnant workers.

In United States Conference of Catholic Bishops v. EEOC, religious groups challenged final regulations for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that grant workers protections for time off and other job accommodations for pregnancy-related medical conditions such as miscarriage, stillbirth and lactation — but also for abortion, which was opposed by many of the bill’s supporters, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Becket, a Washington-based religious liberty law firm, filed a lawsuit May 22 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana on behalf of the USCCB, as well as The Catholic University of America and the dioceses of Lake Charles and Lafayette in Louisiana.

Laura Wolk Slavis, counsel at Becket, said in a statement, “The EEOC twisted a law protecting expecting mothers and their babies and co-opted the workplaces of over 130 million Americans to support abortion.”

“That is an abuse of power — no one should have to choose between their conscience and protecting pregnant women,” she said.

The EEOC regulations govern the implementation of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, bipartisan legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in December 2022. The law went into effect in June 2023 and prohibits employment practices that discriminate against making reasonable accommodations for qualified employees due to their pregnancy, childbirth “or related medical conditions.” The final regulations for the law were published in April 2024.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act legislation was supported by many Catholic groups, including the U.S. bishops’ conference, but Chieko Noguchi, USCCB spokeswoman, told OSV News May 23 that while the conference supported the law itself, the EEOC “hijacked the law,” and its regulations would, in effect, force the USCCB to “knowingly support employees as they get abortions, and it forbids us from encouraging them to choose life.”

In its temporary injunction June 17, the court found that “‘Abortion’ is a term that is readily understood by everyone.”

“If Congress had intended to mandate that employers accommodate elective abortions under the PWFA, it would have spoken clearly when enacting the statute, particularly given the enormous social, religious, and political importance of the abortion issue in our nation,” the court found, adding the legislative record “unambiguously confirms that Congress specifically did not intend for the PWFA to require employers to accommodate abortion.”

The court added EEOC may be making “semantic gymnastics” and “disingenuous” legal arguments in a “textbook case of a federal administrative agency exceeding its statutory authority in a way that both usurps the role of Congress and violates authority vested in the states under the principles of federalism.”

A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wolk Slavis added in her statement that “banning employers nationwide from affirming life is unacceptable and unlawful.”

“This ruling is an important step in ensuring that American workplaces can be free to continue serving their communities consistent with their beliefs,” she said.

The federal government has 60 days to appeal the decision.

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @kgscanlon.

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