The Republican-controlled House will vote today on a measure to strike down a D.C. law that would ban businesses from discriminating against employees based on their reproductive health care choices such as birth control or abortion.
The House measure, though unlikely to take effect because it does not have similar support in the Senate, represents the first time in 24 years that members of Congress have sought to block a D.C. law from taking effect by voting it down.
D.C. lawmakers enacted the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act in December to extend protections to workers by banning employers from discriminating against employees based on their personal decisions or opinions regarding reproductive healthcare.
But critics, including conservative activist groups, say the bill would illegally require organizations to provide insurance coverage for abortions and other reproductive health care procedures regardless of whether they violate the organizations’ religious beliefs.
The House will debate the use of a “disapproval resolution” to block the District’s law at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. The House is set to vote on the measure at 9 p.m.
“This is about religious liberties,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “Our members thought it was important and that’s why it was added to the schedule.”
Democrats fought back against the measure, characterizing it as allowing businesses to meddle in employees’ personal lives.
“Allowing employers to fire employees for using birth control or to engage in in vitro fertilization or any other reproductive health care service is an outrageous intrusion into workers’ personal lives,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “This is Hobby Lobby on steroids. And Republicans need to recognize that your own healthcare choices are not your boss’s business.”
Despite the slim chance the measure will succeed in overturning the D.C. law — to do so would require approval in both houses and by the president — religious and conservative political organizations are hailing the vote as a step in the right direction in the fight for religious freedom.
Religious and conservative political organizations are hailing the vote as a fight for religious freedom.
“Despite having advocated for our constitutional freedoms throughout the legislative process at the local level, the District of Columbia Council disregarded these concerns, forcing the archdiocese to appeal to the U.S. Congress to restore these freedoms through the only legislative recourse that remained,” the Archdiocese of Washington said in a statement on the planned vote.
Advocates for the District see the vote as an attack on the city’s autonomy that is being done ultimately as record-building exercise by Republicans who are seeking to build conservative support.
“It is purely theater for the Republicans,” said James Jones, spokesman for D.C. Vote, a voting rights organization that advocates on behalf of the District. “They know that its not going anywhere but they are still holding a vote.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has sought to assuage fears about the legislation, which is set to take effect Saturday, by introducing emergency legislation that clarifies that the original act “shall not be construed to require an employer to provide insurance coverage related to a reproductive health decision.”
Federal lawmakers have been critical that D.C. lawmakers only passed an emergency version of the amendment, which by nature can be effective for no longer than 90 days, and have not taken steps to permanently amend the legislation.