The US House of Representatives voted Thursday night to overturn a Washington, DC, law that makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who use their insurance to cover procedures like in-vitro fertilization or abortion and contraception like birth control pills and IUDs for themselves, their spouses, or their children.
The District’s council passed the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act last year. The original legislation looked to protect employees from discrimination based on their reproductive health choices. Overturning the law would not only lead to discrimination against those who receive birth control, abortions, or in-vitro fertilization, it could also affect their spouses or parents. If this House ban would become law, an employer could discriminate against an employee if they, or their dependents under their health coverage, receives these reproductive health services.
“This is Hobby Lobby on steroids,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, referencing the Supreme Court decision that essentially gave permission to some employers to not provide contraception as a part of the company’s health insurance plans. “Republicans need to recognize that your own health-care choices are not your boss’s business.”
Feminist leaders agree, calling the vote an attack on women. “This is a new low. It’s beyond outrageous,” said Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal. “The so-called ‘small government’ folks now want employers to invade the privacy of their employees and their families’ medical records.”
“This bill would make it open season for bosses to dig into their employees’ reproductive health practices and fire women for taking birth control or having an abortion,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, in a statement. “This is just the latest in a slew of bills to give employers and businesses the right to discriminate against LGBT people, women, and others. This is dangerous, misguided, and deeply unpopular, and it’s outrageous that Congress is spending its time trying to pass this kind of legislation.” She called the vote “deeply troubling.”
Although Congress has the power to overturn a law passed by the DC council, the House hasn’t voted to do so in 23 years. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) introduced the House version of the measure and Sen. Ted Cruz introduced the measure in the Senate. The House vote was nearly a straight party-lines vote, except with 13 Republicans voting against the measure and three Democrats voting for it.
The Senate and President both need to approve this measure in order for the DC law to be overturned, but President Barack Obama said the measure would have “the unacceptable effect of undermining the will of District of Columbia citizens” and has already issued a veto threat.
Media Resources: The Washington Post 4/30/2015; Huffington Post 4/30/2015; US House of Representatives; Feminist Newswire 7/1/14