Today, the House of Representatives will likely vote on an amendment to a large spending bill that would prohibit the District of Columbia from enforcing one of its employment nondiscrimination laws.
Passed in 2014, DC’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act (RHNDAA) prohibits employers in the District from discriminating against employees based on their reproductive healthcare decisions. The law ensures that employees and their families can make their own private health decisions, including whether, when, and how to start a family and what the size of their family should be, without fear of losing their jobs or facing retribution from their employers. Without this law, employers could use their religious beliefs as an excuse to discriminate against employees for their healthcare decisions like using birth control or treating infertility with IVF.
The District has a complicated relationship with Congress. Even with a population larger than the states of Vermont and Wyoming, the people of the District don’t have any representation in the Senate and have only one member of Congress (Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton) who is denied the ability to vote on legislation. They do, however, have full representation from the District of Columbia Council. Nonetheless, Congress has control over a portion of funding for the District, and thus has the power to prohibit the city from spending money on the programs the Council adopts.
Since the Council passed RHNDAA, members of Congress have been attempting to prevent the law’s enforcement, often invoking false religious freedom concerns. The amendment to the House spending bill offered by Representative Gary Palmer—who represents Alabama and not the District—is yet another attempt.
Contrary to opponents’ claims, however, the RHNDAA does not violate religious freedom protections. Religious freedom is about fairness. It guarantees us the freedom to hold any belief we choose without government interference. It cannot, however, be used to undermine others’ civil rights, and it should not justify striking down laws that ensure people are treated equally in the workplace. It’s not fair for employers to use religion to discriminate against employees based on their health care choices.
That is why we wrote a letter to Congress urging it to reject the Palmer Amendment. In fact, Rep. Norton, who is leading the fight against the Amendment, thanked us for our work opposing the provision.
Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. So is the right to make decisions for yourself about your own health care. RHNDAA honors both. Even if this language is adopted on the floor and added to the House bill, we will fight to remove it in the Senate.