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Judge Partially Blocks EEOC's Rule Requiring Accommodations for Workers' Abortions

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) new regulations implementing the Pregnant Workers' Fairness Act (PWFA) went into effect earlier this week, but not for everyone. For a few employers, a Louisiana-based federal court has blocked the regulations' so-called “abortion mandate.” 

Among other requirements, the EEOC's regulations obligate employers to provide reasonable accommodations for known limitations related to an employee's choice to have or not have an abortion. Mississippi, Louisiana, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and several other Catholic entities challenged the regulations in court. The two states argued that the EEOC cannot require employers to accommodate workers who seek to have abortions that are illegal under state law. The Catholic entities argued that accommodating workers who obtain abortions would violate the entities' sincerely held religious beliefs. 

After consolidating the lawsuits, the court ruled that by requiring workplace accommodations for “elective abortions,” the EEOC went beyond the text of the PWFA as enacted by Congress. The court criticized the “EEOC’s use of its regulatory power to insert the issue of abortion into a law designed to ensure healthy pregnancies for America’s working mothers.” With respect to the Catholic entities, the court faulted the EEOC's failure to include a broader religious exemption.

The decision prevents the EEOC from enforcing the abortion accommodation mandate to employees based in Mississippi and Louisiana and against the specific Catholic entities in the case. The regulations still apply to other employers - an Arkansas-based federal court recently rejected a challenge to the PWFA regulations brought by 17 other states, concluding the states lacked legal standing to bring suit. 

Because the Louisiana court's decision is limited in scope, employers should still ensure their policies and practices comply with the new regulations. Religious employers with beliefs similar to those of the Catholic entities in the case should work with experienced legal counsel to craft policies that are well-suited to similar religious liberty defenses.

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labor and employment and employee benefits