The Trump Administration Is Trying to Make It Easier to Fire Unmarried Pregnant Women

A new rule from the Department of Labor uses the guise of religious beliefs to allow discrimination.

Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

The Department of Labor proposed a new rule this week that would make it easier for employers to discriminate against workers who they say violate their religious beliefs, including members of the LGBTQ community, pregnant women who are not married, and others.

The proposed rule, published Thursday in the Federal Register, purports to “clarify the scope and application of the religious exemption” in the Equal Opportunity Clause, making it easier for employers who contract with the federal government to claim religious exemptions in their hiring and firing decisions.

The ACLU says that the rule would persecute marginalized workers under the guise of religious freedom.

Leila Abolfazli, the director of federal reproductive rights for the National Women’s Law Center, notes the Trump administration has repeatedly supported the expansion of religious exemptions to the law. In 2017, for example, the administration issued a rule allowing any employer—not just religious ones—to deny insurance coverage for birth control if contraception violated its religious beliefs. The administration has also often used the guise of religious belief to remove protections for LGBTQ individuals.

Abolfazli adds that the proposal is particularly insidious as it would allow employers to use their religious beliefs to engage in hiring practices that would otherwise be banned as sex-based discrimination. This could be used to target pregnant women who are not married, as employers could claim sex out of wedlock violates their religion. The ACLU tells Mother Jones that there were four court cases pending as of March 2019 in which churches and Christian schools terminated workers who were pregnant and unmarried.

The new rule would also expand what counts as a “religious organization,” according to Ashley Westby, program manager at the National Employment Lawyers Association. “It means that religious organizations aren’t necessarily just an organization that is a church or a Christian college or a mosque or things of that nature, but any kind of an organization that says on its face that they are doing what they are doing because of their religion,” Westby says. Essentially, any company that claims to espouse religious beliefs, even if they aren’t core to its business, would be covered by the new rule. 

The rule could have a wide-reaching impact, since, as the Atlantic points out, “[a]t least some portion of federal contracts are awarded to religious groups—roughly 2,000 across the federal government each year, according to recent congressional testimony.”
 
A press release from the Department of Labor says that “the proposal also reaffirms employers’ obligations not to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, or other protected bases and does not exempt or excuse a contractor from complying with any other requirements.” Still, the rule would create a vast gray area; cases of sex-based discrimination, such as a Catholic school firing an unwed pregnant teacher, for instance, could pass for religious freedom. 

The rule will remain in a comment period until Sept. 16 before it is finalized.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate