Employee group renews calls for agencies to protect feds, post-Roe

The requests were to Attorney General Merrick Garland, among other officials.

The requests were to Attorney General Merrick Garland, among other officials. Evelyn Hockstein-Pool/Getty Images

Among the requests: administrative leave and travel reimbursement—to cover federal workers who must travel across state lines to receive abortion services—as well as to opt out of relocating to states that ban the procedure.

A federal employee group within the Justice Department last week renewed its call for the Biden administration to do more to mitigate the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade on federal workers.

The Department of Justice Gender Equality Network, an association of around 1,100 department employees, called on the federal government in May and again in June to provide paid administrative leave for federal workers to travel across state lines if necessary to receive abortion services, after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned the longstanding right for Americans to obtain an abortion.

But since then, the administration has only reminded federal workers that they can use existing paid sick leave to travel and obtain health services, without mentioning abortion by name. Over the last month, President Biden has signed two executive orders aimed at protecting Americans’ access to reproductive health care, although neither edict specifically addressed the fact that hundreds of thousands of federal employees live in states that have either banned or plan to ban or impose severe restrictions on the procedure.

In a letter to Vice President Kamala Harris, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young, and White House Gender Policy Council Chairwoman Jennifer Klein, the organization expanded its requests. In addition to paid administrative leave, the group is now calling for federal agencies to pay for the travel expenses of federal workers who must cross state lines to receive abortions.

“The high cost of traveling great distances for abortion care imposes financial burdens on many federal employees that can exceed the actual cost of the procedure,” the organization wrote. “To help facilitate what the administration has described as the ‘bedrock right to travel across state lines to seek reproductive health care in states where those services remain legal,’ the government can and should cover federal employees’ expenses to do so . . . Like providing federal employees with administrative leave, covering travel expenses would not run afoul of the Hyde Amendment, which restricts only the use of federal funding for most abortion procedures themselves—not ancillary benefits.”

The association also argued that federal workers should not be forced to relocate or conduct temporary travel to states that ban abortions, casting such travel as potentially disastrous to pregnant employees who develop life-threatening complications. Recent news reports have highlighted how abortion bans have already made it more dangerous for patients experiencing miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and other complications.

“Being in a state that bans abortion poses a significant threat to pregnant employees by stripping their access to comprehensive reproductive health care,” the letter states. “As President Biden pointed out, there have already been ‘numerous reports of women denied health- and life-saving emergency care, as providers fearful of legal reprisal delay necessary treatment for patients until their conditions worsen to dangerous levels.’ Federal employees should not be required to choose between their job performance and their health and safety.”

The group also warned that, absent action by the administration, abortion bans could impact federal employees and job candidates’ ability to stay in their jobs due to the security clearance process.

“There is precedent for an administration to shield prospective and current employees from punitive clearance consequences when liberty, privacy and equal protection interests are at stake, such as when President Clinton issued an executive order barring intelligence agencies from refusing to issue security clearances based on sexual orientation in 1995,” they wrote. “As was the case then, the government should not use conduct that may violate draconian and discriminatory state laws as a further cudgel against prospective or current federal employees.”

In a statement, Department of Justice Gender Equality Network President Stacey Young said that the administration is off to a good start to protect Americans from abortion bans, but more must be done.

“DOJ GEN applauds the federal government’s steps so far to protect abortion access since Roe v. Wade fell,” she said. “We now ask it to extend those efforts to its own workforce.”

This article was published first on GovExec, a FederalSoup partner site ("A Federal Employee Group Has Renewed Calls for Agencies to Protect Workers Post-Roe.") 

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