California Senate passes bill preventing religious employers from firing workers who seek abortions

(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)Pro-choice protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 2, 2016.

The California Senate has approved a legislation that will prevent religious employers from firing workers who seek abortions or any other services related to the termination of pregnancy.

The measure, known as Assembly Bill 569, was passed by the Senate by a vote of 27–13 on Sept. 12, according to East County Magazine. It was later passed by the Assembly by a margin of 45–13 and is now headed to the governor's desk.

AB 569, authored by California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), would prohibit employers from "taking any adverse action" against employees for any decision regarding their pregnancy, including "the use of any drug, device, or medical service."

It would allow for a "ministerial exception for employees of religiously affiliated institutions," but it only applies to an "employee who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith."

"Women in this country have been fired for getting pregnant while unmarried, for using in-vitro fertilization and for other personal reasons related to their own reproductive health. This is outrageous and needs to stop. No woman should ever lose a job for exercising her right to decide when, how, or whether to have a family," Gonzalez Fletcher said.

Some religious organizations argued that the bill is unnecessary and would threaten their ability of to apply codes of conduct for employees according to their religious beliefs.

The legislation, which will take effect in 2018 if signed by the governor, would also prohibit employers from forcing workers to sign codes of conduct related to their decisions about their pregnancy. The governor has until Oct. 15 to either approve or veto the measure.

In late August, Catholic League President Bill Donahue sent a letter to all members of the California legislature calling the legislation a "blatant assault on religious freedom."

Donahue contended that the bill's real intention was to undermine "Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life" by forcing the church to employ people who publicly oppose that teaching.

Under current law, employers are allowed to take action against employees for violations of their internal policies.

In 2012, a woman was fired from San Diego Christian College after she got pregnant while unmarried. She noted that the college offered a job to the father of her child shortly after firing her, prompting allegations that the religious school was discriminating on the basis of gender, not marital status.

In 2015, the Archbishop of San Francisco attempted to include a prohibition on in-vitro fertilization, birth control and abortion in the employee handbook.

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