ERLC seeks protection of pregnant workers
-- Russell D. Moore
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief filed Sept. 11 that calls for the justices to uphold employment safeguards in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). In the 1978 law, Congress' purpose included the protection of women from economic constraint to have abortions, according to the brief.
The high court will hear oral arguments in the case Dec. 3.
ERLC President Russell D. Moore said in a statement for Baptist Press about the brief, "Being pro-life means standing both with unborn children and with their mothers. We must speak for pregnant women who should not have to decide between loving their babies, caring for their health and making a living."
Among pro-life organizations joining the ERLC on the brief were the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Bethany Christian Services, Christian Legal Society, Concerned Women for America, Democrats for Life of America, Feminists for Nonviolent Choices, Heartbeat International, March for Life Education and Defense Fund, National Association of Evangelicals, Students for Life of America and Susan B. Anthony List. Representing the organizations on the brief were lawyers from Americans United for Life, the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota and Judicial Education Project.
The Supreme Court agreed in July to review an opinion by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals against Peggy Young, who sued United Parcel Service (UPS) in response to a policy by the package delivery company that resulted in her taking unpaid leave and losing her medical coverage during her pregnancy.
After she became pregnant, Young, a delivery driver in Maryland, provided UPS with notes from a doctor and mid-wife saying she should not lift more than 20 pounds. A manager told Young this would prevent her from performing the basic actions of her job for UPS, which had a 70-pound lifting requirement. The manager also said Young was ineligible for light-duty work.
A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit, located in Richmond, Va., unanimously backed UPS, thereby upholding a federal judge's decision and ruling UPS had devised "a pregnancy-blind policy." The judges decided UPS did not violate the PDA by restricting light-duty work to some workers, such as those injured on the job, but not providing it to pregnant employees. A different reading of the PDA could result in preferential treatment for pregnant employees, the panel said.
The PDA stipulates: "[W]omen affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes ... as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work."
The brief endorsed by the ERLC and the other pro-life organizations contends the Fourth Circuit "erroneously held that the PDA allows employers to treat pregnant women as poorly as they treat their least-accommodated workers rather than requiring them to treat pregnant women as well as they treat their best-accommodated workers."
That determination by the appeals court "blocks the PDA from addressing the very problem that Congress sought to solve, that is, to protect women from economic pressure to abort their children and to safeguard their fundamental right to procreate and bring up children," according to the brief. Among congressional supporters for the PDA were members "who were concerned about the possibility that women would be forced to choose between their jobs and their unborn children," the brief says.
Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest said of Young's case, "It was absolutely unacceptable that while other employees' physical needs were accommodated, a hard-working pregnant mother was not given the same options for lighter duty.
"Women should not suffer physical hardship at work or lose their jobs because they are having a baby," she said in a written statement. "And pregnant mothers should not be refused the same accommodations offered others."
An opinion in the case, Young v. UPS, is expected to be announced before the court adjourns early next summer.