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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The U.S. bishops' support for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) has transformed into a contentious focal point in the nation's ongoing abortion battle.
The recently implemented PWFA was ostensibly designed to address a gap in U.S. employment law by mandating "reasonable accommodations" for pregnancy-related limitations. But the Biden administration's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was entrusted with interpreting the PWFA, now plans to introduce a mandate for employers to cover abortion.
Prominent pro-life advocates, including CatholicVote, cautioned the USCCB against endorsing the PWFA. These organizations even urged the bishops to retract their December 2022 endorsement, primarily due to concerns the PWFA might oblige Catholic employers to facilitate abortions.
The apprehensions of these pro-life groups became tangible in July 2023 when the EEOC announced its intent to implement an abortion mandate for employers under the PWFA.
When the EEOC announced intentions to force employers to cover abortion, pro-abortion lobbying groups pounced on the USCCB's endorsement of PWFA.
For example, last week, the American Civil Liberties Union stated that it
applauds the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's proposed regulations strengthening the rights of workers under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), including access to abortion and the full range of related health needs before, during, and after pregnancy. ... The PWFA's passage marked the culmination of a decade of advocacy by the ACLU and its coalition partners and was enacted with broad bipartisan support, including from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Soon after the EEOC announced its pro-abortion intentions in July, Bp. Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, chairman of the USCCB's committee on pro-life activities, released a statement.
"We supported the bipartisan [PWFA] because it enhanced the protection of pregnant mothers and their preborn children, which is something that we have encouraged Congress to prioritize," he asserted. "The Act is pro-worker, pro-family, and pro-life. It is a total distortion to use this law as a means for advancing abortion, and the complete opposite of needed assistance for pregnant mothers."
"The [EEOC's] proposed interpretation of the PWFA to include accommodations for obtaining an abortion is wrong and contrary to the text, legislative history, and purpose of the Act, which is to help make it possible for working mothers to remain gainfully employed, if desired, while protecting their health and that of their preborn children," he continued. "We are hopeful that the EEOC will be forced to abandon its untenable position when public comments submitted on this regulation demonstrate that its interpretation would be struck down in court."
The bishops' conference then initiated a drive for public comments to counteract this infringement on religious liberty. By the comment period's conclusion, over 27,230 remarks were routed through CatholicVote's action center. An additional 20,800 submissions were speculated to have come from USCCB initiatives. Out of the 63,330 comments the EEOC registered, over 75% were from Catholics and associated allies.
Joshua Mercer, the vice president of CatholicVote, underscored that while the battle remains ongoing, it's imperative for the USCCB to reflect upon and evaluate their endorsements.
"We're supposed to be in this together, and when organizations like CatholicVote reach out to the USCCB to offer our expertise and our research as a Catholic organization concerned with the same issues the bishops care about, they shouldn't be afraid to listen," he explained. "Hear us out."
"If we work together, we might have a much better chance of winning more victories for Catholics in this country," Mercer continued. "In fact, this is exactly why CatholicVote exists. Lay entities have important insights to offer to the bishops that we hope can help avoid these types of mistakes."