The House yesterday passed a bill that would require employers who offer health insurance and disability plans to provide coverage for childbirth, pregnancy and related medical conditions.
However, the Education and Labor Committee added a provision that would exempt employers from including abortion in health insurance or disability coverage except where the life of the woman would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.
A similar bill passed by the Senate contains no abortion provision. That issue will have to be resolved in a conference between the two houses.
The bill, approved 376 to 43 in the House, would amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
It would prohibit discrimination against pregnant women in any area of employment, including hiring, promotion, seniority rights and job security.
The abortion issue has tied up other bills, particularly Labor-Health. Education and Welfare appropriations bills in conference, and some think the issue could imperil this bill.
Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) opposed the bill on the House floor yesterday because of the abortion rider, which he said "substitutes a new form of discriminate for the one it seeks to eliminate." he also objected to the procedure under which the bill was brought up, since it prevented amending the bill.
But Rep. Edward P. Beard (D-R.I.), the author of the abortion provision, said it is "not taking away anyone's rights, it is just not forcing abortion down anyone's throat."
Red. Ronald A. Sarasin (R-Conn.) said the bill "makes the abortion an optional matter" since it would not prevent employers from paying for abortions, and would leave it as "a subject for collective bargaining."
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif. also opposed the bill on the abortion issue, saying it was "another government intrusion into the private lives of women."
Weiss said an employer may veto coverage for abortion even if the woman made the entire contribution to a health plan herself.
The abortion rider was put into the bill at the urging of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, but some antiabortion groups opposed adding it to this bill, since they said the thrust of the legislation was to encourage women to continue a pregnancy.
Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.) urged House members to pass the bill, even with the abortion rider, because time is running out on the session and the crowded schedule may prevent any bill from passing.
The bill was drafted after the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 in a 1976 case called General Electric vs. Gilbert that disability plans did not have to cover pregnancy-related disabilities.
The court concluded that pregnancy was not gender-related but condition-related, and was therefore not discriminatory.