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Senate Passes Measure Expanding Rights for Pregnant People in the Workplace

Many of the 24 Republicans who voted “no” on the measure also oppose abortion rights.

Onesies with messages in support of The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act hang on a clothesline outside the U.S. Capitol during a demonstration on December 1, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

The Senate voted to include a measure to expand basic workplace protections for pregnant people in its omnibus funding bill on Thursday, marking a win for labor advocates during a time of precarity for reproductive rights in the U.S.

Senators agreed to the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in a 73 to 24 vote on Thursday as the chamber considered a series of amendments to the omnibus funding bill. The omnibus passed the Senate with the amendment on Thursday, and will have to undergo a House vote before it heads to the White House for Joe Biden’s approval.

Unions and advocates have fought for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act for years. The proposal would provide protections for pregnant workers who require pregnancy and childbirth-related accommodations at work, like sitting, more frequent bathroom breaks, and other physical needs. It is aimed at ensuring that workers aren’t discriminated against or at risk of losing their jobs as a result of their pregnancy.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) celebrated the passage of the amendment. “BIG: Our amendment to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act passed! Because if you are pregnant and working during your pregnancy, you should have the right to workplace accommodations,” he wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “It’s one of the most significant improvements in worker protections in years.”

All 24 “no” votes came from Republican senators, many of whom also hold cruel anti-abortion views; Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), for instance, told reporters earlier this year that the Supreme Court’s stunning decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was good in part because Congress could consider a nationwide abortion ban — a move that would have horrific consequences.

In essence, these Republicans voted to force workers to endure hardship at work and potentially be fired due to a pregnancy that, in the 13 states where abortion is currently fully banned, workers couldn’t choose to terminate if they wanted or needed to.

These votes stand in sharp contrast to their supposed pro-life views, which anti-abortionists are constantly touting in part to cover up their true goal of advancing patriarchal white supremacy, as the movement’s historical ties have shown.

Advocates for the bill say that it would provide basic protections that aren’t covered under current anti-discrimination laws.

While pregnant workers are protected under equal employment opportunity laws, studies have shown that they are still disproportionately discriminated against in the workplace; one 2013 study found, for instance, that more than 250,000 workers are denied pregnancy accommodations in the workplace each year despite those supposed protections.

Black and Latinx people and immigrants face the worst pregnancy-related discrimination. Black women, for instance, file nearly 3 in 10 charges of pregnancy discrimination with federal agencies. Black people are also the most likely to experience complications or death due to pregnancy as a result of factors like medical racism and lack of access to quality health care.

The Senate also voted to pass the PUMP Act, which would expand breast pumping protections to millions of workers who currently aren’t allowed break and private time to pump breast milk, something that is often physically necessary for people who are away from their babies at work. The provision passed 95 to 5, with Johnson and Republican Senators John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Kentucky) and Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania) casting “no” votes.

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