Employee Group Calls for Federal Abortion Leave After Roe v. Wade is Overturned
The Department of Justice Gender Equity Network asked the administration to authorize paid leave in cases where federal employees need to travel across state lines to receive abortion services.
An association of Justice Department employees on Wednesday urged the Biden administration to mitigate the impact of the expected overturning of Roe v. Wade on federal workers by granting administrative leave in some cases.
Earlier this month, Politico reported on a leaked draft opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito that would overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating the right for Americans to have abortions. Although a final decision is not expected until next month, the news kicked off a political firestorm, with the Biden administration searching for ways to help the millions of Americans in states that are poised to issue heavy restrictions or ban abortion altogether.
The Department of Justice Gender Equality Network, an association of about 1,100 Justice Department employees, sent a letter to Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young and White House Gender Policy Council Chairwoman Jennifer Klein with an idea of their own: offer paid administrative leave to federal workers who need to travel across state lines to seek abortion and other reproductive health services once the 49-year precedent is overturned.
By the group’s estimation, 150,000 federal employees in Texas and Mississippi already effectively have no access to in-state abortions due to laws at the heart of a legal challenge currently under consideration by the Supreme Court. Another 227,000 federal workers live in the 11 states with so-called “trigger laws,” which are designed to kick in automatically in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned, while an additional 290,000 feds live in the nine states that still have abortion bans on the books from before Roe. And 131,000 more federal workers live in the four states where officials have vowed to pass new abortion bans in the wake of the Supreme Court’s expected action.
Citing the administration’s decision last year to provide federal employees with paid leave to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the association argued that granting federal workers leave to travel to seek abortion services would be a good first step to “mitigate the harm” to employees. The need becomes even more apparent as officials in some states have contemplated outlawing other reproductive health services, like fertility treatments and some forms of contraception.
“As an initial step, we ask that the administration swiftly consider requiring federal agencies to grant administrative leave to cover the time it takes an employee, or an employee’s family member, to travel to another state to obtain reproductive health care services not available in their own state due to restrictive laws,” the group wrote. “This is a critical matter of gender equity and equality for the Department of Justice and the federal government. We are also troubled by the disproportionate impact these restrictions on reproductive health care would have on employees of color, those who work in remote locations and those from other marginalized communities.”
The association said providing administrative leave is particularly important because the federal employees who would make use of the benefit are more likely to be early career workers, who may not have large banks of unused annual and sick leave at their disposal yet. And they argued the decision would not run afoul of existing bans on federal spending on abortion, since leave is a non-salary benefit.
“As you know, sick and annual leave for federal workers is limited, especially in their early years working for the government,” the group wrote. “[This] action would not run afoul of the Hyde Amendment, which restricts the use of federal funding in most cases for an abortion procedure itself, but does not impose restrictions on ancillary accommodations.”
If the federal government began offering leave for federal workers to travel to obtain reproductive health services, it would join a growing list of large employers extending similar benefits to their workforces. And the association argued such a decision by the nation’s largest employer could encourage more companies to follow suit.
“Providing employees with administrative leave for travel would put the federal government on a similar footing with large employers throughout the country that are already providing travel assistance to employees who need to cross state lines to obtain reproductive health care,” the group wrote. “These employers know that this is important for recruitment and retention, as well as diversity, equity, inclusion and access within their workforces. They have also determined that it is simply the right thing to do, which sends a powerful message.”
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