WASHINGTON — Justice Department workers on Wednesday urged the Biden administration to release federal employees if they or their family members have to leave the state to have abortions.
The request puts the administration in a potentially tricky position: either deny a benefit even if several major companies have created accommodation in the area, or grant a benefit that will take on state governments that restrict access to the procedure.
Members of a group working for gender equality, the Justice Department’s Gender Equality Network, sent a letter asking the government to “consider the move quickly” two weeks after a leaked draft opinion showed the Supreme Court was about to was about to overthrow Roe v. Wade. † If the court does this in June or early July, about half of the states will strictly restrict abortion or ban it completely.
Granting leave to employees who must travel to have an abortion is comparable to the time off federal employees were given to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, the group argued.
“The administration mandated agencies to grant federal employees administrative leave so that they or their family members can receive Covid-19 vaccinations for their ‘health, safety, and physical and mental well-being,’” the group said in the letter, which was sent. . to the White House Budget Office and the Gender Policy Council, as well as the Office of Personnel Management. “Likewise, the administration should be able to grant federal employees a reasonable amount of administrative leave to access reproductive health care for their health, safety, and physical and mental well-being.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
Since the federal government is the nation’s largest employer, granting leave would “send a strong signal to America — and U.S. employers in particular,” said Stacey Young, the chair of the Department of Justice’s Gender Equality Network. .
Currently, about 150,000 federal workers in Texas and Mississippi have limited access to abortion, and an additional 227,000 federal workers in 11 other states could lose access to the process immediately if the Supreme Court overthrows Roe, the group said.
Several major companies, including Amazon, Citigroup and Yelp, have already said they will cover some costs for employees who must travel to undergo certain medical procedures prohibited by state law, including abortion.
The adoption of such policies in the private sector could pressure the Biden administration to respond in kind, providing a way for workers to have an abortion without having to use their limited sick days and vacation time to do so. to do.
“Employers can choose to provide housing, and the federal government is allowed to act like any other employer to some degree,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
Granting furlough could open up the federal government to lawsuits alleging the benefit violates the Hyde Amendment. By law, federal funds cannot be used to pay for abortions except in special circumstances, such as a birth that puts the mother’s life in danger.
The State of Roe v. Wade
What is Roe v. Wade? Roe v. Wade is a landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. The 7-2 ruling was announced on Jan. 22, 1973. Judge Harry A. Blackmun, a humble Midwestern Republican and defender of the right to abortion, wrote the majority opinion.
Granting administrative leave “would not violate the Hyde Amendment, which in most cases limits the use of federal funding for an abortion procedure itself, but does not limit additional provisions,” the gender equality group argued in its letter.
Since no federal money would be used to provide abortion care, it would be more difficult to argue that granting leave violates the amendment, said Melissa Murray, a professor at New York University School of Law.
Granting such a benefit could also pit government employees, and possibly the federal government itself, against states that have passed laws prohibiting abortion.
If Roe is weakened or overthrown, some critics say they expect legislation to further limit access to abortion will gain traction. In Missouri, for example, lawmakers have proposed legislation that would allow citizens to sue anyone who helps people cross state lines for an abortion. Legal experts say it’s conceivable that federal employees could be charged for violating such a law.
“There could be a separate battle as to whether the federal government, by simply granting leave of absence, is creating a defense for those employees,” said Mr. Vladeck.