D.C. Council amends Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act

D.C. Council amends Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act

By Andrea Noble – The Washington Times – Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The D.C. Council on Tuesday tweaked an anti-discrimination law to ensure it didn’t force employers to provide insurance coverage for abortions or other reproductive health care decisions they oppose on religious or moral grounds.

In an emergency amendment to the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act passed Tuesday, the council unanimously voted to clarify language about discrimination on the basis of sex.

"This emergency amendment is meant to remove any ambiguity as to whether the law … would require employers to provide insurance coverage for reproductive health care to employees despite an employer’s moral or religious objection," said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

The original law, passed in December, was intended to protect workers from discrimination based on their reproductive health care decisions. But critics, including conservative activist groups, warned the measure 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 amended legislation doesn’t go far enough for some groups.

Casey Mattox, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group, said the law would still require organizations to hire employees who don’t embody the groups’ own message.

"This would still mean that a pro-life organization in the District would still be required to employ someone who doesn’t agree with the group’s message on abortion," Mr. Mattox said.

Mr. Mattox added he was dismayed that despite expressing the same concerns about bill from the beginning, the council has taken until now to address the issue.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser initially tried to introduce the legislation to the D.C. Council at their Feb. 3 meeting, but officials said a draft was not received by the council’s deadline for inclusion on their agenda.

The original bill amends the District’s Human Rights Act to say that discrimination on the basis of sex includes "reproductive health decisions" — which are defined as a decision "by an employee, an employee’s dependent, or an employee’s spouse related to the use or intended use of a particular drug, device, or medical service, including the use or intended use of contraception or fertility control or the planned or intended initiation or termination of a pregnancy."

It raised concern among religious and conservative groups and even the former mayor, who called it "legally problematic." Former Mayor Vincent C. Gray noted that religious and political organizations might have strong grounds under the First Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to challenge the bill in its initial form.

The amended law adds a clause stating that prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex "shall not be construed to require an employer to provide insurance coverage related to a reproductive health decision."

Council members still questioned whether the fix was necessary.

"I think it was pretty clear from the beginning that there was no requirement in this law that any employer purchase anything for anybody at any time," said D.C. Council member David Grosso, at-large independent and the sponsor of the initial legislation. "But I understand that there has been some unintended confusion by outside parties."

Ms. Bowser signed the original law Jan. 23, triggering a wave of outcry from religious groups and setting the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action for America to work lobbying Congress to block its implementation. The law is still undergoing a 30-day legislative review by Congress, as is required of all D.C. legislation.

© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC.

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