US states sue over agency rule on protections for workers who get abortions

By Thomson Reuters Apr 25, 2024 | 5:09 PM

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) – A group of Republican-led U.S. states filed a lawsuit on Thursday seeking to block a federal rule that gives workers who had abortions the same legal protections as workers who are pregnant or recently gave birth.

The 17 states claim in a complaint filed in Arkansas federal court that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rule unveiled last week violates the U.S. Constitution by interfering with the ability of states to regulate and ban abortion.

The commission’s rule implemented a law that Congress passed in 2022 with bipartisan support and the backing of major business groups, which requires most employers to accommodate workers who are pregnant or have related medical conditions.

The EEOC in the rule said those related conditions can include abortion and the use of birth control, along with miscarriage, lactation and others.

The states, led by Arkansas and Tennessee, said in the lawsuit that abortion is not a medical condition that Congress intended for the law to cover. They said that being forced to accommodate state workers’ abortions would conflict with state laws barring the use of public funds to provide abortions.

The EEOC deferred comment to the U.S. Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fourteen U.S. states now ban nearly all abortions with only narrow exceptions, while several more have severe restrictions including bans after six weeks of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

The states’ lawsuit also includes a novel claim that the rule is invalid because the commission’s structure violates the U.S. Constitution. They claim that the U.S. president, who appoints the EEOC’s five members, should be able to remove them at will.

Companies, conservative groups and Republican state officials have increasingly made similar arguments in cases involving other agencies, but Thursday’s lawsuit appears to be the first to target the structure of the EEOC.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Josie Kao)