The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday voted to block federal and local funds for a law passed by the Washington, D.C. council that prevents employment discrimination based on reproductive health decisions.
Rep. Steven Palazzo’s (R-Miss.) amendment to a bill funding financial services and general government programs was adopted in a 28-22 vote after a highly contentious debate. Palazzo argued the D.C. law, enacted in January, forces employers to violate their religious beliefs.
“For example, a Catholic school could be required to hire a teacher that publicly advocates for the use of abortion as a birth control option. Although legally, that teacher has every right to share their opinions publicly under the First Amendment, no religious organization should be required to hire someone who actively advocates against the tenants of their organization’s moral beliefs,” he said.
The law prohibits employers in D.C. from discriminating against workers based on their reproductive health choices, including decisions to seek abortion services, contraception and even in vitro fertilization.
“This amendment offered today would strip those protections from D.C. workers,” Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) said in opposition.
“This really is a new low,” added Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), ranking member on the Appropriations panel.
“If this amendment were to pass, could a male worker in Washington, D.C. be fired for having a vasectomy?” she asked. “Hard-working women already have enough on their plates--from making 28 cents to the dollar compared to men, to acting as caregivers without paid family or medical leave all while this committee cuts for family planning and teen pregnancy prevention.”
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said the amendment would “force a religious belief into the workplace.”
A few Republicans spoke up in support of the amendment, including Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), who described the law as “unconscionable.”
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), however, spoke up against the proposal because the law is meant to also protect employees’ dependents and spouses.
“I think this amendment goes too far,” he said.
The House voted in late April to overturn the D.C. law.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has introduced a companion measure in the Senate.