The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision in Slattery v. Hochul, reversing the dismissal of a First Amendment challenge to New York Labor Law §203-e (also referred to as the “Boss Bill”). The Boss Bill prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against employees based upon their reproductive health decisions, including “a decision to use or access a particular drug, device or medical service,” and also forbids employers from “accessing an employee’s personal information regarding the employee’s . . . reproductive health decision making.” The term “reproductive health decision making” necessarily would include an employee’s decision to have an abortion or use contraception. The Boss Bill, unlike Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, does not contain an exemption for religiously affiliated organizations.
With the release of the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, questions regarding enforcement activity in states that restrict or ban abortion by statute have been raised and have remained mostly hypothetical. The frequency and scope of future enforcement activity remains unknown. Given the variety of laws now in effect in restricted and ban states, and that enforcement of such laws is subject to state prosecutorial discretion as well as the prevailing political climate, enforcement initiatives are expected to vary by state.
On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe v. Wade—the 1973 landmark ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion. Now, companies that operate in states where abortions are banned or restricted are facing a quagmire of laws and risks regarding enforcement. Additionally, the risk landscape is not static, but rather in flux, as the federal government (agencies such as the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) and a myriad of states introduce new legislation and issue guidance on a near-daily basis.
Now that the Supreme Court of the United States has declared that authority to regulate abortion rests with the states, organizations operating across state lines face new and some unprecedented challenges created by the civil and criminal legal issues arising from risks of enforcement in any state where abortion is or will be banned (a “ban state”). Health care providers, employers, and other organizations with any nexus to such states will need to conduct careful analyses and may have to accept an unknown level of enforcement risk while various jurisdictions respond to their newfound power and determine if and how to wield it. The risks may extend to providers who deliver abortions, patients seeking abortions, companies who support their employees traveling to non-ban states to receive abortions, and their executives. The outer parameters of who is subject to enforcement risk are presently unknown but are likely to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
The day after the Gallup organization reported that public confidence in the Supreme Court has reached new lows, the Court has added what, to many, will be more fuel to that fire. The long-awaited, hotly contested, and divisive opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization has officially come down and, given reactions to the premature release of a draft of Justice Alito's majority opinion, the public's expectations on both sides of the abortion debate have been realized.
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