Federal court shields U.S. bishops from abortion mandate as lawsuit plays out

Federal court shields U.S. bishops from abortion mandate as lawsuit plays out



null / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jun 18, 2024 / 15:45 pm (CNA).


A federal court on Monday protected the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) from a new federal abortion rule as litigation over the directive plays out in court. 


The USCCB will not be “forced to support employee abortions against their religious beliefs” while a federal lawsuit works its way through the courts, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said in a Monday press release.


The bishops, along with several other Catholic plaintiffs including the Catholic University of America, filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration last month over regulations that would require that employers accommodate women for workplace limitations that arise from “having or choosing not to have an abortion.”


The new regulations issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) were related to the implementation of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). The pregnancy law itself does not mention abortion.


The regulation also includes a prohibition on interference with the accommodations; it further forbids retaliation against a person who uses the accommodations.


The Monday ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana found that the EEOC “exceeded its statutory authority to implement the PWFA” and in doing so “both unlawfully expropriated the authority of Congress and encroached upon the sovereignty” of the plaintiffs.


The plaintiffs were granted a preliminary injunction “until final judgment is entered” in the case, the ruling said.


District Judge David Joseph said in the decision that the PWFA was not originally passed to include abortion accommodations.


“If Congress had intended to mandate that employers accommodate elective abortions under the PWFA, it would have spoken clearly when enacting the statute, particularly given the enormous social, religious, and political importance of the abortion issue in our nation at this time,” the judge said.


The federal government “failed to include a broad religious exception” in the abortion mandate, Joseph wrote. The bishops, the ruling said, “demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on their claims of statutory and constitutional overreach.”


The USCCB praised the decision on Tuesday. 


“We have said from the start that abortion has no place in the pro-life, pro-woman Pregnant Workers Fairness Act,” spokeswoman Chieko Noguchi said. 


“We’re grateful the court has agreed and look forward to full and permanent respect for our rights and this law’s noble purpose,” she added. 


Becket senior counsel Laura Wolk Slavis, meanwhile, said in the legal group’s press release on Monday that the pro-abortion mandate from the government was “unacceptable and unlawful.”


“This ruling is an important step in ensuring that American workplaces can be free to continue serving their communities consistent with their beliefs,” she said.