House Republicans moved forward Wednesday with another attempt to overturn the District of Columbia’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA), this time using the budget process.
The House Appropriations Committee passed a budget rider sponsored by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) that prohibits the use of new funds to enforce the law. The rider passed on a 28-22 vote, with two Republicans joining 20 Democrats to oppose it.
The GOP-led House recently took a formal vote to block RHNDA, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their reproductive health choices, such as firing a woman for having an abortion or choosing to use birth control. The RHNDA amends the city’s Human Rights Act.
That House vote was ultimately a symbolic gesture, and the law went into effect. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) sponsored a version of the bill in the Senate, but the chamber didn’t take action in time to send the motion of disapproval to the president. Obama had threatened to veto the bill if it ever reached his desk.
The vote was the first time in 23 years that Congress had formally tried to exercise its authority to overturn a new law passed by the district.
But it’s more common for Congress, as it’s doing now, to use the budget appropriations process as its tool of choice to interfere with D.C. home rule. Congressional Republicans have used the appropriations process to block D.C. efforts on issues like using abortion funds for low-income women and legalizing both medicinal and recreational marijuana.
“It is bad enough that Congress uses D.C. as their own bizarre social experiment, but when in doing so they attempt to write discrimination into law, that is a bridge too far,” Sasha Bruce, senior vice president of campaigns and strategy of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement.
It’s not clear how effective the budget-based maneuver will be if it passes, as D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson told Roll Call in April.
“The Human Rights Act is … a protection for an individual. It’s not a government program,” Mendelson said. “John Doe doesn’t have the right to discriminate against you. So if Congress says we can’t spend any money to implement that, what does that mean? … It’s not clear how Congress could stop that.”
While the measure wouldn’t require employers to offer insurance coverage of abortion or contraception, D.C. council members were motivated by the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision to try to add protections for employees.
Conservative objections to RHNDA—that it would violate the religious freedom of employers—are similar to the conservative arguments made in Hobby Lobby.
Some conservative groups even vowed to disobey the law, but as RH Reality Check has reported, they appear to be fighting a straw man—the provisions they promised to disobey don’t seem to be part of the law.
More than 100 local D.C. businesses have signed a letter to Congress in opposition to overturning RHNDA.
“We are employers in the District and we believe that all women should have the ability to make personal decisions that affect their reproductive health without our intrusion,” the letter reads. “We support freedom of religion and belief—but not the right to impose those beliefs on others.”