The Office of Personnel Management, which oversees some 2 million employees of the federal government, said it will preserve its sick leave benefits for medical travel in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that prompted immediate abortion bans in at least nine states.
The policy makes clear that federal employees can apply sick time to travel out of state and remains in effect after the high court struck down Roe v. Wade, its 1973 decision that women in the U.S. had a fundamental right to choose whether to have abortions without excessive government restriction, on Friday.
More than 57,000 abortions, 10% of the total reported, were provided to patients who traveled outside of their home states 2019, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With the Supreme Court no longer recognizing a federal right, more states are expected to ban or limit the procedure, driving people to seek care in other states.
“While such travel will generally be short distances—for example, to and from a local doctor’s office or hospital—an employee may find it necessary to travel longer distances, including out of state, to obtain medical care,” OPM’s policy says. “In such instances, sick leave may be used to cover necessary travel time.”
OPM allows sick leave to be used for a federal employee accompanying a family member to an appointment. If an employee has not accrued enough sick leave, an agency may grant that leave in advance.
The Supreme Court ruling, which was declared after a draft decision was leaked in May, overturns decades of precedent and permits state-by-state decisions on limiting or banning abortions. Conservative Justice Samuel Alito authored the 6-3 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
President Joe Biden announced two actions immediately after the ruling: one directing the Department of Health and Human Services to safeguard access to contraception and medication abortion, and another protecting travel for medical appointments.
Reversing Roe would revoke an economic right that determines the welfare of working women and their families, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said said on behalf of the Department of Labor in a statement on June 24.
“Reproductive autonomy directly supports women’s ability to get an education, participate in the labor force, and increase their earning potential and it has helped to narrow the gender wage gap” he said. “Losing the right to reproductive freedom will have a catastrophic impact on women’s employment and economic security.
Women’s Bureau Director Wendy Chun-Hoon said that same day that her Labor Department office can advocate for safeguarding access to abortion, contraception and comprehensive maternity care.
The Women’s Bureau was established in 1920 and has the authority to formulate workforce policy and investigate women’s employment issues across the country. It’s the only federal agency authorized by Congress to represent the needs and interests of working women.
“The right to reproductive freedom – which includes the right to access legal abortion services – is fundamental to women’s autonomy, health outcomes and economic security,” Chun-Hoon’s statement said.
Over the weekend, protesters held demonstrations across the country after the ruling surfaced, though Americans lack an absolutist view on abortion rights, according to Pew data.
More than 60% of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances as opposed to illegal, but responses vary when asked about specific circumstances like term length or the health of the mother or baby.
Molly Weisner is a reporter for Federal Times where she covers industry issues pertaining to the government workforce. She's made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a producer and worked on The New York Times's print desk as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism and French at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.