February 9, 2015 — More than a dozen conservative organizations and Catholic groups on Thursday sent a letter to House lawmakers urging them to overturn two Washington, D.C., laws passed last year, including a reproductive health non-discrimination measure (B20-0790), the Washington Post's "District Of DeBonis" reports.
Under federal law, measures passed in Washington, D.C., are transmitted to Congress for a required 30-legislative day review period. During that time, a District law can be overturned via a joint resolution passed by the House and Senate and signed by the president.
Laws at Issue
One of the measures the groups oppose is the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014 (DeBonis, "District Of DeBonis," Washington Post, 2/6). The bill, approved by the D.C. Council in December, would amend the District's Human Rights Act of 1977 to include language prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees based on their reproductive health decisions.
The measure would apply to all employers, whether or not they hold themselves out as religious (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/22/14).
The conservative groups in their letter also urged Congress to overturn the District's Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014, which repeals a congressionally imposed exemption from the District's LGBT nondiscrimination law for educational institutions that hold themselves out as religious.
The letter was signed by members of the Archdiocese of Washington, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic University of America, as well as leaders of Heritage Action for America, the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage.
The groups wrote, "Most of us do not engage in the [District's] legislative affairs, but we must do so now with one voice against two recently enacted laws that are unprecedented assaults upon our organizations. Both laws violate the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of association protected by the First Amendment and other federal law" ("District Of DeBonis," Washington Post, 2/6).
Attempts To Address Conservatives' Analysis
Some conservatives have argued that the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014 would require District employers to cover all reproductive health services, including abortion care, in their employer-sponsored health plans.
However, D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety legislative counsel Ben Shelton has said the measure is "designed not to say what types of insurance an employer must offer," but rather to protect employees from being discriminated against based on their reproductive health decisions (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/22/14).
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser's (D) administration recently sent the D.C. Council legislation that would clarify that the bill would not require employers to offer coverage for abortion or contraceptives in their employer-sponsored health plans.
However, in their letter, the conservative groups said such clarification would "fail to resolve" their concerns.
Bowser spokesperson Michael Czin called for "everyone, regardless of political leanings, to respect the democratic process of District residents."
House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said, "Just as my colleagues insist that the laws of their constituents be respected by Washington, you better bet that we will insist on the same American principle and will target members who dare disrespect the people of the District of Columbia by trying to overturn our local laws" ("District Of DeBonis," Washington Post, 2/6).