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Arkansas and Tennessee challenge federal rule adding abortion to pregnancy protections

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Republican attorneys general have filed another lawsuit over abortion. This time, the AGs of Arkansas and Tennessee are leading a multistate challenge against a new federal rule that entitles workers to time off and other accommodations for abortions. They say this is an illegal interpretation of new federal protections that are in effect, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Maggie Ryan from Little Rock Public Radio reports.

MAGGIE RYAN, BYLINE: Fifteen states are joining Arkansas and Tennessee in the lawsuit against a policy requiring employers to give time off and provide extra restroom breaks, along with other accommodations for pregnancy. The federal law originally passed with bipartisan support in 2022, but the Biden administration recently expanded the protections to include abortion.

Republican Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin argues the rule, quote, "hijacks pregnancy protections and violates the Constitution." Karen Musick, with the Arkansas Abortion Support Network, thinks the AG's office wants to control the sexual behaviors of Arkansas citizens.

KAREN MUSICK: It's just not anyone's business. I feel like they've taken this on themselves in an effort to control the behavior of - in particular women.

RYAN: The attorney general argues that the rule, which is set to take effect in June, would impose significant compliance costs if allowed to go into effect. And he argues it would violate the state's ban on public dollars being used to fund abortions since state workers would be allowed to seek accommodations.

Abortion is illegal in Arkansas except to save the life of the mother. Luke McCoy is with the Arkansas Family Council, a group whose mission is to, quote, "protect innocent life from conception to natural death." He says it would be naive to assume people won't use the protections to get abortions.

LUKE MCCOY: It does seem unclear at the least, if not outright burdensome, for employers to potentially have to cover certain expenses for their employees, especially if the employer does not believe in abortions.

RYAN: Women across the country have come forward since Roe v. Wade was overturned, saying they have been denied abortions even while facing medical crises. In Texas, for instance, at least 20 women are suing the state, alleging the law there endangered them during complicated pregnancies. Karen Musick from the Abortion Support Network sees this lawsuit as a scare tactic and says people will still travel out of state to seek abortions even if they don't have workplace accommodations.

MUSICK: I think the aim of this is to create more confusion and more fear among the population in order to make people more terrified to seek out an abortion.

RYAN: Reproductive rights advocates in Arkansas are still gathering signatures to try and enshrine abortion rights in the state Constitution during a referendum this year. Even advocates admit it's an uphill battle. They need 90,000 signatures in support of the measure but only have until July 5, and then voters will still need to show up to the polls. For NPR News, I'm Maggie Ryan in Little Rock. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Maggie Ryan
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