House Republicans advanced a measure on Tuesday that would reverse a Washington, D.C., law preventing employers from being able to fire individuals based on their personal reproductive health decisions.
The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act, passed into law by the D.C. City Council in December, says employers cannot discriminate based on a decision “by an employee, an employee’s dependent, or an employee’s spouse related to the use or intended use of a particular drug, device, or medical service, including the use or intended use of contraception or fertility control or the planned or intended initiation or termination of a pregnancy.”
Practically, that means employers in the District can't fire someone or pay them less because they had an abortion, use birth control pills or had a teenage daughter become pregnant outside of wedlock. Catholic and Christian schools across the country have been known fire teachers for becoming pregnant out of wedlock.
Because Congress has jurisdiction over D.C., it can pass resolutions of disapproval that reverse existing laws in the district. Congress rarely uses the tactic, but Republicans were so opposed to the D.C. legislation that that they revived it. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said he knows the bill is "emotionally charged," but that Republicans believe the D.C. law is unconstitutional and violates the religious freedom of employers.
"The bill forces employers to hire and retain individuals whose beliefs regarding reproductive health decisions are different from what the employer advocates," he said.
Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) added that he believes abortion is murder and said "we should all be willing to die for" religious liberty.
Democrats strongly opposed the resolution.
"This resolution would give an employer coercive power to intrude on a woman’s private decisions about birth control, in vitro fertilization and abortion," Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said. "Those are activities that are none of an employer’s business. They are activities that obviously happen off the job and decisions that have no bearing whatsoever on a woman’s ability to do her job."
D.C.'s only delegate to Congress, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), said she strongly opposed Republicans' efforts to strip the District's law, although she does not get to vote on legislation before Congress. "My Republican colleagues will cite freedom of religion, which in this case would be the freedom of any employer to discriminate against any employees because of the personal, constitutionally protected reproductive choices she makes in a private capacity," she said.
Protesters from DC Vote, a group that advocates for full voting representation in Congress for District residents, had to be escorted out of the mark-up by Capitol police. They shouted "D.C. votes no!" on their way out.
The resolution advanced out of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Tuesday, but it would need the pass the full House and Senate and be signed by the president in order to overturn D.C. law. President Barack Obama is not likely to sign it.