News Human Rights

A ‘New Low’? GOP Tries to Block D.C.’s New Reproductive Health Law

Emily Crockett

Republicans in Congress voted Tuesday to overturn a new law that would protect women in Washington, D.C., from being fired due to their reproductive health-care choices.

Congressional Republicans voted Tuesday to overturn a new law that would protect women in Washington, D.C., from being fired due to their reproductive health-care choices.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 20 to 16 to advance a resolution of disapproval that, if passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president, would block D.C.’s new Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act.

The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings, called the repeal attempt a “new low” for the Republican Party on women’s health issues.

“Under this legislation, congressional Republicans would permit District employers to fire a woman because she had an abortion after being raped, demote a man because his wife chooses to use a birth control pill, pay an employee less because his or her teenage daughter became pregnant out of wedlock, and impose a host of other penalties based on ideologies that discriminate against certain reproductive health decisions,” Cummings said in a statement last week, ahead of the markup.

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Advocates point to cases of non-Catholic women who become pregnant out of wedlock being fired from Catholic schools as an example of why the law is needed. Laws against gender discrimination or pregnancy discrimination don’t always cover cases in which a woman’s reproductive health choices run afoul of her employer’s ideology.

Opponents of the law, which include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, claim that it would restrict religious freedom.

“We should all be willing to die” for religious liberty, Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) said during the committee meeting after noting that he believes abortion is murder.

The District of Columbia’s locally passed laws are subject to the approval of Congress, and it’s been 23 years since the last time a House committee started the process to try to overturn one. Republicans seem more keen than usual to meddle with D.C. local control, with recent efforts to interfere with D.C.’s legalization of marijuana and threats to undo local gun laws.

Since the resolution of disapproval is unlikely to succeed, Republicans have also urged House budget leaders to stop the new law by blocking funds to implement it—the same process they used to keep D.C. from taxing and regulating the commercial sale of marijuana.

Detractors also claim that the non-discrimination act would effectively overturn the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, but the bill’s sponsors dispute that.

After the bill was passed, D.C. Council member David Grosso told Rewire that while the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision helped motivate the council to pass the bill, the legislation wouldn’t impose any new obligations on employers related to insurance or contraception.

It merely prohibits firing an employee for her personal health-care choices, or her dependent’s choices.

“Employers are entitled to their religious beliefs and these beliefs and practices are protected by D.C. law,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said Monday. “At the same time, we will not tolerate the misusing of religion to deny women and men in the District of Columbia equal opportunity under the law.”

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