United States Conference of Catholic Bishops v. EEOC

Becket Role:
Case Start Date:
May 22, 2024
Deciding Court:
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana
Original Court:
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana

Case Snapshot

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a federal law designed to protect expecting mothers in the workforce so that they can have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. But a federal agency hijacked the law to impose an abortion mandate on workplaces nationwide. A group of Catholic ministries are going to court to protect Catholics and millions of other Americans from the mandate.


On May 22, 2024, Becket filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana on behalf of several Catholic ministries to immediately block the federal government from enforcing its abortion mandate on over 130 million Americans.
Pregnant woman and female doctor look at ultrasound

Case Summary

Stronger protections for pregnant women, healthy pregnancies, and healthy babies  

Congress passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) in 2022 to provide more robust protections for pregnant women in the workforce. Among those protections, the PWFA makes it illegal for employers to deny reasonable accommodations—like paid time off, bathroom breaks, and modified work schedules—to women who have physical limitations brought on by pregnancy or childbirth. The PWFA also bars employers from denying employment opportunities for pregnant women because they require accommodations. During the PWFA’s Congressional debates, lawmakers made it clear that the PWFA does not require employers to accommodate abortion. In fact, not a single legislator supporting the law argued on the floor of Congress that the law concerned abortion—and the law doesn’t mention abortion at all. Instead, they emphasized over and over that the law provided “very simple” protections for pregnant women, and that it was hard to imagine “a more commonsense, less controversial” law. 

Throughout the legislative process, USCCB—an organization of Catholic bishops who are the senior religious leadership of the Catholic Church in the United States—enthusiastically supported the PWFA’s passage. That support reflected the law’s purpose of protecting the well-being of expecting mothers and their unborn children, a goal consistent with the Catholic Church’s belief in the inherent dignity of all human life. 

A law to protect pregnant women is weaponized 

Despite the law’s text, purpose, and legislative history, and after a sharply divided 3-2 vote, EEOC—the federal agency that Congress granted authority to issue regulations under the law—mandated that employers nationwide must accommodate employee abortions. The rule requires that employers must knowingly agree to allow their employees to take leave, including paid leave, to have an abortion. Employers cannot enforce life-affirming workplace policies and practices against employees who choose to obtain an abortion. Employers also may not communicate about pro-life beliefs in ways that “interfere” with abortion accommodations, and must censor some forms of pro-life employee speech for the same reason.  

At the same time that EEOC issued its new and unprecedented abortion mandate, it also tore down existing religious liberty protections. EEOC will only consider these defenses on a “case-by-case” basis—i.e., after expensive and entangling EEOC investigations and federal litigation.  

Catholic leaders stand against federal abortion mandate 

On May 22, 2024, Catholic ministries filed a federal lawsuit in federal district court to block EEOC from enforcing its abortion mandate. The ministries believe EEOC hijacked a law that was intended to protect women and their unborn children and weaponized it against more than 130 million Americans to turn their workplaces into pro-abortion zones. 

The EEOC’s actions follow a lengthy history of federal agencies weaponizing their regulatory authority against religious objectors. For nearly 15 years, federal agencies attempted to impose a mandate requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives and abortion pills. That meant groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns that run homes for the elderly poor, had to go to court for years to receive an exemption to the mandate. And after all that litigation, the federal government ultimately admitted that it never needed to conscript the Little Sisters or other religious objectors in the first place. EEOC shouldn’t repeat the same illegal error, forcing employers who object to abortion into a needless decades-long legal battle. 

Importance to Religious Liberty: 

  • Federal mandate cases: Winning this case confirms important precedent that federal agencies cannot unnecessarily force religious people to violate their beliefs.
  • Individual freedom: Religious individuals, employers, and organizations must be free to follow their faith in all aspects of their lives, both privately and publicly, at home and in the workplace.
  • Free Speech: Religious people have a right to hold onto and profess their teachings, including in the workplace and not just in houses of worship. 
  • Religious communities: Religious communities have the right to organize and operate according to their beliefs without threat of government interference.