The D.C. Council held a hearing Thursday on legislation that would bar employers from discriminating against job seekers who have performed abortions and protect patients seeking abortions from government interference.
The Government Operations Committee hearing on the Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019 comes as legislatures across the country have sought to outlaw or enshrine abortion in state law in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that legalized the procedure.
The proposed amendment to the Human Rights Act of 1977 would prohibit the D.C. government from interfering with reproductive health decisions and from imposing punishments on self-induced abortions or miscarriages.
It also would prohibit employment discrimination against health care professionals who are willing to provide or have provided abortions.
“While we are well aware that the District of Columbia is subject to the whims of Congress, we are fortunate right now to have a pro-reproductive health majority in the House of Representatives,” said council member David Grosso, an at-large independent who introduced this legislation with six other lawmakers. “Nevertheless, it is imperative that, as a city, we do our part to protect the rights of our residents.”
The hearing room Thursday was filled mostly with women, some of whom wore pink in a show of solidarity and many of whom supported the legislation.
But several witnesses opposed the bill, arguing that it would violate First Amendment rights and threaten women’s safety.
“Forcing pro-life health care providers to violate their moral and religious beliefs under the guise of ‘nondiscrimination’ is antithetical to the very value — pluralism — this law is meant to defend,” testified Katie Glen, a lawyer with Americans United for Life, adding that she believes the bill’s strictures could be applied to religious charity groups.
Others argued the legislation would prevent the government from regulating the facilities and practices of abortion providers. They cited the case of Kermit Gosnell, a former abortionist convicted of murdering three babies who were born during attempted abortions and of manslaughter in the death of woman during a procedure. He is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Judy Waxman, former vice president of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, argued the proposed amendment would not limit the government’s regulatory authority.
“All people want safe and caring health care, the bill today would restrict the D.C. government from imposing regulation that constrict access to abortion, protects the right to abortion,” Ms. Waxman testified. “It does not say that health and safety standards that apply to all health centers and all providers would be prohibited under this law.”
She offered examples of regulations that the government would be prohibited from instituting, such as unnecessary wait periods and requiring providers to give inaccurate medical information to patients.
Leila Levi, a lawyer with the National Women’s Law Center, testified that some doctors have lost their jobs for performing abortions on their own time in a separate facility and have been threatened during job interviews about whether they had ever preformed an abortion.
“Unfortunately the reality is doctors and other clinicians have been fired, threatened, demoted, denied opportunities and otherwise punished for providing abortion services, seeking abortion training and speaking publicly about abortion,” Ms. Levi said.
According to the D.C. Department of Health, there were 3,624 reports of induced terminations of pregnancy in the District in 2017.