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Why new federal pregnancy protections in the workplace matter

They didn't get a lot of attention, but new pregnancy workplace protections, approved over Republican objections, are going to make a big difference.


Two weeks ago, with time running out in the current Congress, a trio of Senate Republicans blocked bipartisan legislation to extend new workplace accommodations to pregnant people. One of the GOP senators, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, argued that the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would force employers to “provide accommodations such as leave to obtain abortions on demand under the guise of pregnancy-related condition.”

Tillis was simply wrong — the bill included no such provisions — but he helped derail the measure.

Fortunately for families, the setback was temporary. Politico reported:

The Senate voted 73-24 to add a bipartisan bill ensuring workplace pregnancy protections to the government funding legislation. In addition, it approved an amendment strengthening protections for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace.

At issue are two separate bills, both of which were successfully added to the omnibus spending package that cleared Capitol Hill last week. The first was the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act — the one that had been blocked a week earlier — that would ensure that pregnant people in the workplace are allowed to take extra bathroom breaks, carry water bottles, and make use of sitting on a stool during a shift.

This was approved despite the opposition of 24 Senate Republicans. (A similar measure was approved in the House last year, despite the opposition of 101 Republicans.)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer declared, “The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is one of the most significant improvements to workplace protections in years. Tens of millions will be covered under this legislation, especially millions who work low-income jobs, long hours, and get little support.”

But just as notable was the other policy that was added to the same spending package: The Senate also approved a policy that, as Roll Call reported, would “require employers to provide extra time and space for workers to breastfeed on the job,” for up to a year after the child’s birth.

The vote on this was 92-5. And who, pray tell, would oppose such a thing? I’m glad you asked:

  1. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas
  2. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin
  3. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah
  4. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky
  5. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania

These five knew that the measure would pass, but they wanted to go on the record opposing the policy anyway.

Insert the obvious joke here about which party wants to be seen as “pro-family.”