Washington — A group of Justice Department (DOJ) employees is calling on the Biden administration to require federal agencies to give time off to workers if they or members of their family need to travel out of state to obtain abortion services.
The request from the DOJ Gender Equality Network to White House officials and the head of the Office of Personnel Management comes as a growing number of companies are providing travel benefits for employees who live in states where abortion access will be restricted if the Supreme Court overturns its landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, which established the right to an abortion. The group wants the federal government, as the nation’s largest employer, to follow suit, arguing it is a “tangible and meaningful form of assistance” it can offer.
In their letter, first reported by the New York Times, the Justice Department group asked the Biden administration to “swiftly consider” requiring government agencies to grant leave covering the time it takes for federal workers or their family members to travel to another state for an abortion, if they live in a state with restrictive abortion laws.
The network, which has 1,150 members and advocates for gender equity and equality at the Justice Department, said there are roughly 150,000 government employees who live in Texas and Mississippi, where abortion access is severely curtailed. Another 227,000 live in 11 more states with so-called “trigger” laws, in which abortion will be banned if Roe is overturned, while 290,000 live in another nine states with abortion bans that could become enforceable in the wake of a Supreme Court decision.
“This is a critical matter of gender equity and equality for the Department of Justice and the federal government,” the group wrote. “We are also troubled by the disproportionate impact these restrictions on reproductive healthcare would have on employees of color, those who work in remote locations, and those from other marginalized communities.”
The network said it is “confident” that providing administrative leave for employees’ travel would “fall well within the administration’s executive authority over agency management,” and compared the benefit to time-off given to federal employees to obtain COVID-19 vaccines.
“Likewise, the administration should be able to provide federal workers with a reasonable amount of administrative leave to access reproductive healthcare for their health, safety and physical and mental wellbeing,” they said.
The group also argued providing administrative leave for abortion services would not run afoul of the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for most abortions, as the measure “does not impose restrictions on ancillary accommodations.”
With the Supreme Court weighing whether to strike down Roe in a case involving a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the private sector has announced plans to expand benefits to cover travel expenses for employees living in states with stringent abortion laws.
The leak of a draft majority opinion from the high court indicating it had voted to strike down the 1973 decision spurred more companies to help employees seeking abortion services, and within the federal government, President Biden said his administration is preparing options for a response to a variety of outcomes in the case currently before the Supreme Court.