Every summer, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., helps his colleagues celebrate “Seersucker Day” in the U.S. Senate. Next year, he should think about adding a new accessory to his summer sartorial splendor: a “Kick Me” sign.
That tag accurately describes how Cassidy allowed the professional left to play him like a fiddle in creating a proposed new federal mandate for abortion leave. Cassidy says he objects to the new regulation, but he doth protest too much — because the mandate was in many ways his own doing.
Pregnant Worker Bill
The issue revolves around the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), added as a Cassidy-sponsored amendment to last December’s omnibus spending bill. Supporters of this amendment said it would give pregnant women a right to reasonable accommodations — for instance, more bathroom breaks, or the right to carry water on the job — so they could remain in the workforce during and immediately after their pregnancies.
A twist occurred when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in releasing proposed rules implementing the legislation, said it would define abortion as part of “pregnancy, childbirth, or other related medical conditions” entitled to protection under the new statute.
The regulation makes clear that nothing in the new law requires or prohibits employers from paying for abortion procedures themselves. (The Cassidy amendment, unlike earlier versions of the legislation, made this fact clear.) It also adds that nothing in the law or regulations would require employers to provide paid leave in excess of what they already offer through their existing policies.
However, the proposed regulation would effectively require employers to give their workers leave — paid vacation time if the worker has any available, or unpaid leave if not — for an abortion or treatments or services related to that abortion. Moreover, this requirement would extend to entities and organizations with moral or religious objections to abortion; churches and religiously affiliated entities could raise their beliefs in court, but their religious affiliation would not provide an absolute defense to lawsuits from workers or job applicants seeking abortions.
Obvious Regulatory Outcome
After the EEOC issued its proposed rule, Cassidy’s office put out a press release attacking the abortion language’s inclusion. But on multiple levels, the senator should have seen this coming from a mile away.
First, the Biden administration has perhaps served as the most pro-abortion administration of any in history, pushing for taxpayer funding of abortions in a way that even Barack Obama would not. After two-plus years of pro-abortion policies from this administration, did Cassidy really think abortion would somehow escape the EEOC’s notice when it came to implementing this particular law?
Second, the proposed regulation cites three separate federal court rulings, each from different circuits, as well as report language from the passage of the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, to conclude that the federal government considers abortion a “related medical condition” to pregnancy.
In other words, just as federal courts have held that state Medicaid programs must cover abortions unless they are explicitly prohibited from doing so by the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits federal taxpayer funding of elective abortions), so too was abortion practically guaranteed to fall under the scope of the PWFA if it was not explicitly excluded. And the amendment Cassidy drafted and sponsored did not do that.
Third, consider how groups on the left have described the bill, and the process leading up to it. In May, the group A Better Balance, which has advocated for the PWFA for over a decade, published a book about the experience. They noted that late last year, several senators, including Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., started raising abortion-related objections to the legislation.
A Better Balance stated that the bill passed “thanks to the tireless and shrewd work of our lead sponsors” — Cassidy and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn. — “and after working in coalition with our partners, as well as many reproductive rights experts and scholars.” The organization went further, talking about “unacceptable poison pill language” and “hostile amendments” offered by Lankford, which the organization fought against on the Senate floor.
What exactly were those “hostile amendments” and “poison pill language”? One was an amendment Lankford offered that would have stated that religious entities did not have to make accommodations that would violate their beliefs.
This simple principle — don’t force faith-based groups to violate their religion — seems like common sense to most Americans. But to Planned Parenthood and the “reproductive rights experts and scholars” associated with A Better Balance, religious freedom was a “hostile amendment” and a “poison pill.” So too was it to Cassidy, who voted against Lankford’s proposal.
Finally, Cassidy’s own staffers knew this was an issue — yet did nothing about it. A source in the pro-life community told me that Cassidy’s “staff told us prior to the vote that they knew abortion was a problem but they didn’t want to derail the process.”
Another pro-life source said, “Cassidy wanted the bill passed at any cost,” and therefore wouldn’t insist on any provision — like explicit pro-life protections — that Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., then-chair of the Senate Health Committee and a strong abortion supporter, would not accept.
Cassidy Office Deflects Responses
I posed a series of questions to Cassidy’s office about this history.
One of my questions asked how Cassidy approaches the role of the Hyde Amendment currently within the HHS appropriations bill — if it were to be removed, does he believe the language of the bill would still prevent taxpayers from paying for elective abortions, or does he conversely admit the bill is otherwise silent on abortion?
In response, Cassidy spokesman Ty Bofferding reiterated that the EEOC “has gone rogue.” He rejected the premise of my inquiries, claiming that my Hyde Amendment analogy was “a false equivalency,” because spending money was inapposite to whether the EEOC had legal authority to include the abortion language. He referred me to floor statements that both Casey and Cassidy gave last December saying that the PWFA did not touch on abortion.
Pressed for specific answers to several of my other questions, Bofferding declined to respond. And as to Bofferding’s claim that “Senator Cassidy is 100% pro-life” and that his “office worked with the pro-life community to ensure pro-life protections in the legislation,” one of my sources noted that at the time the legislation passed, “it was publicly known pro-life issues still existed and instead of addressing them in the text he chose to give a floor speech with [Sen.] Casey.”
The bottom line: Cassidy had all the leverage he needed to insist on a carve-out for religious organizations, language exempting abortion from the PWFA entirely, or both. Instead, he caved like a cheap suit, because he was worried about “derail[ing] the process.” As a result, employers around the country — to say nothing of the unborn — will pay the consequences.
The Left’s Useful Idiot
Compare Cassidy’s actions to those of one of his Senate colleagues, Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. Whereas Tuberville has placed a blanket hold on all Pentagon nominations in an attempt to get the Department of Defense to unwind its policy of providing “abortion vacations” to service members, Cassidy gave the EEOC all the authority it needed to impose such a requirement on most private-sector employers nationwide.
And while some may have concerns about the implications of Tuberville’s holds on military readiness, at least he hasn’t behaved in the two-faced manner that Cassidy has, privately admitting concerns with a bill before it is in effect — and then loudly raising objections when those concerns come to fruition.
Cassidy frequently plays these games of footsie with the left. Witness his attempts during the Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” debate six years ago to placate Jimmy Kimmel — only for Kimmel to eventually throw him to the curb.
Even though there’s no educational value in the second kick of a mule, somehow Cassidy has yet to learn that trying to appease the woke mob by “going along to get along” is a fool’s errand.
The bigger question is why the citizens of Louisiana — many Catholic, and many strongly pro-life — keep electing officials like Bill Cassidy to the Senate. Here’s hoping that if Cassidy hasn’t learned his lesson three years from now, the people of Louisiana kick him to the curb — and out of the Senate.