Opinion: The GOP keeps making things worse for pregnant people

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Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.

One thing you might think abortion rights advocates and opponents could agree on would be extending workplace protections to pregnant workers, postpartum workers and those who have just undergone pregnancy-related medical procedures. Even after Roe v. Wade was overturned, a law doing just that was passed with bipartisan support.

Jill Filipovic. - Courtesy Jill Filipovic
Jill Filipovic. - Courtesy Jill Filipovic

Despite the significant political differences dividing those in opposition over abortion, surely we can all agree on supporting people during and after pregnancy, right?


Seventeen anti-abortion Republican attorneys general are currently suing over that same law, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which provides a series of protections and accommodations for pregnant and post-pregnant women whose companies employ at least 15 people, so long as the accommodations and protections don’t cause “undue hardship” for the employer. These accommodations and protections include providing seating, adequate bathroom breaks and time off for prenatal appointments.

The issue for these Republicans? The law also requires that employers make “reasonable accommodations” for “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions”— and Republicans object to giving women time off for abortion, a pregnancy-related procedure.

To be clear, this act does not offer paid time off for anything – not pregnancy, not childbirth, not miscarriage, not abortion. It does not make employers pay for anything, nor make any accommodations that are unduly burdensome. It is, simply, a law that seeks to impede discrimination against women for pregnancy, a condition that the overwhelming majority of American women will experience.

It essentially says that if there is some workplace task a person cannot do because of a pregnancy-related condition, and that inability is temporary (because pregnancy, thank God, is not forever), and it’s reasonable for an employer to accommodate it, they must. For example, letting a pregnant bank teller sit rather than stand, making sure a pregnant health aide can pee when she needs to, granting a pregnant paralegal’s request for the afternoon off so she can make a prenatal appointment, not penalizing a pregnant waitress because she called off for the day because of a miscarriage and, yes, giving a pregnant worker an unpaid day off so she can have or recover from an abortion if it’s not unduly burdensome to switch her shift.

These 17 attorneys general all represent Republican states, most of which have banned abortion. Ostensibly some of the women requesting time off for abortions will be those whose pregnancies had serious problems for which abortion was lifesaving. Others, though, may have to travel out of state, or will self-induce at home, and these Republican attorneys general want to make that even harder. But the real issue is just abortion itself. The PWFA is a federal law, which means it applies across the United States, including in states where abortion remains legal. The Republican attorneys general who object to it don’t want women in those states to be accommodated, either – they want their own hostility to abortion to cross state lines.

The lawsuit argues that elective abortions “are not themselves ‘medical conditions’ arising from pregnancy, but instead voluntary procedures that terminate pregnancy.” Well, prenatal appointments, scans and scheduled C-sections are also not medical conditions arising from pregnancy, and are often entirely voluntary (though, in the case of prenatal care and scans, strongly recommended, and in the case of C-sections, sometimes necessary). Breastfeeding, too, is common and recommended, but not a requirement for either a healthy pregnancy or a healthy child.

And let’s just call this what it is: Republicans attempting to be even crueler to women seeking abortions. Put yourself in the shoes of a woman who is pregnant and does not want to be. The average American woman who has an abortion is a low-income, unmarried, in her 20s and a mother already, according to the New York Times. Roughly half of women who end pregnancies in the US live below the poverty level (only about one in 10 Americans generally lives below the poverty level, according to the US Census Bureau).

We’re talking about a lot of struggling single moms who are in work-a-day jobs, who then have to have a personal and humiliating conversation with their bosses about their need to take a day off for an extremely common but still deeply stigmatized medical procedure. And these attorneys general want to make that even harder by allowing bosses to discriminate against them.

Most women who take time off for abortions, I suspect, do not disclose the reason to their employer. But if they do, they shouldn’t face discriminatory treatment. That is all the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act seeks to do.

Republicans have said time and again that they aren’t anti-woman, they are simply pro-life. But it’s hard to see how these protections would do anything to increase abortion rates. They would simply offer women a sliver more protection in the workforce, something people on all sides of the abortion issue should be able to agree on. But Republicans don’t seem interested in doing that – unless they can also stigmatize abortion and heap greater shame, humiliation and difficulty on women seeking the procedure.

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