A group of Justice Department employees sent a list of demands to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday, asking for the administration to expand health care coverage to include abortion-related benefits like paid leave to travel out of state and reimbursement for travel expenses.
The group, the Department of Justice Gender Equality Network, told administration officials they have not done enough to support federal workers since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June.
“[T]he federal government has chosen not to follow countless employers in the private sector that support their employees affected by restrictive state laws,” states the letter from DOJ GEN, a 1,200-member organization comprised of Justice Department employees who pursue gender equity in the federal workforce. “Failing to act quickly to address this issue could hinder the Administration’s work to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the federal workforce, and harm the Administration’s efforts to recruit and retain talented employees.”
In the weeks since Roe was overturned, several large companies, including Amazon, Bank of America and Target, have promised to cover certain expenses for employees who need to travel for abortion services.
The employees are asking the administration to approve paid leave and coverage of travel expenses for federal employees who travel out of state for abortion care; allow federal workers to decline work travel to states that ban abortion; pledge to shield employees who are prosecuted for abortion-related crimes from being penalized in the federal workforce; promise to fight the Hyde Amendment; and to add federal employees to newly formed reproductive rights task forces.
“These are meaningful steps the administration should take right now to protect abortion access for the nation’s 2 million federal public servants and their dependents in states that have already banned abortion, or likely will soon,” said Stacey Young, President of the Gender Equality Network.
CNN has reached out to the Justice Department and the White House for comment.
President Joe Biden and Garland have both repeatedly pledged to protect abortion rights. On Wednesday, the President issued his second executive order designed to ensure access to abortion care this summer. Wednesday’s order would pave the way for Medicaid to pay for certain abortion services for people forced to travel outside their state, though questions loom whether this would violate the Hyde Amendment which prohibits the use of federal funds to perform abortions.
The Justice Department on Tuesday filed its first lawsuit related to abortion rights against the state of Idaho, asking a federal court to block the state’s abortion ban set to go into effect August 25.
DOJ GEN sent a similar letter to administration officials in May after the leak of a draft opinion that signaled the Supreme Court was set to overturn Roe. Then, however, the group only asked the administration to allow time off for employees who needed to travel to get an abortion. This latest letter, more than a month after the court issued the decision, asks for much greater protections and benefits for federal workers.
Justice Department employees are asking the administration not only to provide paid leave – arguing that a recent Office of Personnel Management fact sheet reminding workers they can use sick leave for travel does not go far enough – but also to pay for the expenses associated with travel to get an abortion.
The group argues that “covering travel expenses would not run afoul of the Hyde Amendment, which restricts only the use of federal funding for most abortion procedures themselves – not ancillary benefits.”
Additionally, the group wants the administration to allow federal employees to opt out of work travel to states that ban abortion or relocate entirely if they are based in such a state.
Biden and Garland this week have referenced the uncertainty, and often danger, women and doctors have confronted in the wake of Roe being overturned.
“Emergency medical care being denied to women experiencing miscarriages, doctors uncertain about what they can do to provide for their patients, pharmacists unsure whether they can fill prescriptions that they’ve always filled before, a tragic case of rape survivors, including a 10-year-old girl forced to travel to another state for care,” Biden said before signing his second executive order on the issue Wednesday.