It’s been less than 24 hours since the Biden administration announced the deadline for companies to require their workers to be vaccinated against coronavirus or present weekly negative tests, but lawsuits have already been filed against the measure, with more likely to follow.
These lawsuits claim to be defending bodily autonomy — but they’re being filed by the same Republican-controlled states where this defense has been ignored in the fight for abortion rights.
The Biden rule, which will be enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), requires employers at companies with more than 100 employees on their payrolls to have their workers provide proof of vaccination. If a worker does not wish to be vaccinated, they must provide evidence of a negative COVID test each week at their own expense. Companies and workers have until January 4 to comply with the new rule.
Several states under Republican control have already filed lawsuits against the White House, including a joint suit by Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio — and at least 20 other states are planning to sue the Biden administration over the vaccine rule.
Some companies have also filed lawsuits. Tankcraft Corp. and Plasticraft Corp., a company based out of southeastern Wisconsin, has filed a challenge to the rule directly to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, alleging that it violates the company’s and their workers’ autonomies.
“OSHA does not know how to run our companies. We do,” the company’s secretary and treasurer, Steve Fettig, said in a statement.
“We respect our employees’ fundamental right to make their own private, difficult medical choices,” Fettig said.
Those arguments are hypocritical, particularly when juxtaposed with the current debate on abortion rights in the United States. Despite Fettig’s supposed commitment to the “fundamental right” to make “private, difficult medical choices,” Fettig is chair of the board of directors of the MacIver Institute in Wisconsin, a right-wing organization that has advocated for anti-abortion legislation in the state.
In Texas, a state that is also challenging the Biden administration over the OSHA vaccine rule, abortion access been severely curtailed by a restrictive law banning the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy — so early on in the pregnancy that many people don’t even realize they’re pregnant.
When announcing the lawsuit against the Biden administration on Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton claimed that the “new vaccine mandate on private businesses is a breathtaking abuse of federal power.”
Of course, when it comes to the Texas abortion ban, Paxton has no qualms about the government intruding in people’s lives. Although the courts have long maintained the constitutional right to abortion, Paxton dismissed that idea in filings to the Supreme Court last month.
“The idea that the Constitution requires States to permit a woman to abort her unborn child is unsupported by any constitutional text, history or tradition,” Paxton claimed, disregarding five decades of precedent and case law.
The Texas abortion bill was signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Greg Abbott (R); last month, the governor signed an executive order forbidding any public or private sector entity from abiding with a vaccine mandate. Although federal rules and laws supersede this order, many have criticized Abbott for his inconsistency — especially because abortion affects only the individual who is undergoing the procedure, whereas actions related to the pandemic, like choosing to get vaccinated or wear a mask, can have an enormous impact on the health and wellbeing of others.
“They say it infringes upon their freedom if the government mandates that they wear their masks or if the government mandates they get a vaccine,” noted state Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas). “I don’t know what country they come from because the one that I grew up in, I couldn’t go to school until I got what I call my shots. We had to have vaccinations to go to school when I was a little girl. So it’s always been that way.”
“We got hypocrites [in Texas],” Crockett continued.
Cindy Banyai, a Florida candidate for Congress in the 2022 midterm elections, expressed a similar sentiment on Twitter on Thursday afternoon.
“If you think a vaccine mandate from OSHA is unconstitutional, you should see what states are trying to do with abortion and voting,” she said.
In a number of interviews on Thursday, Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh defended the Biden administration’s new vaccine rule, calling it “unfortunate” that so many states were planning lawsuits just hours after the deadline was announced.
OSHA has “a 50-year history of making these rules work,” Walsh said on PBS’s “NewsHour”, adding that both employers and the Biden administration are in “uncharted territory” when it comes to dealing with the pandemic.
Walsh also noted that the new rule is not a mandate because it still gives workers the choice to do what they want with their bodies.
“It was a well-written rule and put together. A lot of thought went into it,” Walsh said, adding that the administration is “confident” that the rule will stand up to judicial scrutiny.