Pro-abortion groups are lobbying for a California law that Catholic leaders warn would open employers like Catholic schools to lawsuits for asking teachers to follow their codes of conduct.
“The bill unmistakably targets religious organization employers in the state, and goes further, inviting expensive litigation that could take years to sort out,” the California Catholic Conference said July 14, adding that it “sets a dangerous precedent for religious employers.”
The Catholic conference strongly opposes the bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales Fletcher (D-San Diego).
Assembly Bill 569 would prohibit employers from requiring their employees to sign a waiver or other document that “purports to deny any employee the right to make his or her own reproductive health care decisions,” its summary says.
It would also bar an employer from taking any adverse action against an employee based on the employee’s or employee dependent’s use of any drug, device or medical service related to “reproductive health” – which would include abortion, contraception and sterilization.
If an employer has an employee handbook, the bill would require the handbook to notify employees of these legal rights.
The California Catholic Conference charged that the bill targets religious employers who “expect faithful public and workplace conduct by their employees, including those who teach at religious schools and are reasonably expected to model the principles of that faith.”
The bill would make employers vulnerable to “nuisance lawsuits” from both employees and their dependents. The vulnerability from dependence is “unprecedented in California law,” the conference said.
“On the surface, the bill claims to seek legal protections from discrimination or retaliation for the ‘reproductive decisions’ of employees,” the conference continued. “However, the bill does not allow employers to enforce codes of conduct, even those negotiated with employees as part of union contracts. Those ‘codes of conduct’ – which are actually just standards and expectations set by an employer for the individuals it employs – bind religious employers and their employees in pursuit of a good society.”
The pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice California is among the bill’s backers. Its February 14 statement in favor of the bill cited the actions of two Catholic schools in other states that had fired teachers on morality grounds.
The California Catholic Conference said backers of the bill can cite only one California case in the past decade, and that case was settled out of court.
Other backers of the bill include the California Council of Churches, which represents mainline Protestant and Orthodox Christian churches. Opponents include the California Family Council.
Similar legislation was enacted in February in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. Several Catholic organizations have filed a legal challenge against the law and the Missouri governor has called for a special session of the legislature to pass stronger legal protections for pro-life groups.
To help rally opposition to the California bill, the Catholic conference has prepared an action alert on its website.