House Passes Bill to Stop Forcing Pro-Life Groups to Hire Abortion Activists

National   Steven Ertelt   May 1, 2015   |   8:15AM    Washington, DC

Late Thursday night, the House of House of Representatives passed a bill to stop a measure the District of Columbia approved that would force pro-life groups to hire abortion activists.

The local government of the nation’s capital approved the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA), which prevents employers from denying employment based on “their reproductive health decision-making.” Because the language provides no exemption for religious or political groups, it could be used to force pro-life groups to hire abortion advocates.

“We can’t exist if our purpose is to advocate for a pro-life position and we’re living under a regime which is telling us you can’t structure yourself as an organization and hire people to advocate for these issues,” Travis Weber, an attorney and Director of Family Research Council’s Center for Religious Liberty, told The Daily Signal. “It’s very controlling and it brings to mind an oppressive government monitoring of groups’ purposes.”

By a vote of 228-192 the House passed H.J. Res. 43, expressing disapproval of the Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Act. The vote saw 225 Republicans and three Democrats (Reps. Lipinski, Peterson, Cuellar) vote in favor of the resolution. 179 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted against the pro-life bill.

House Speaker John Boehner said: “America was founded on the principle of religious freedom, and faith-based employers deserve the ability to hire people who share their beliefs. The measure passed by the D.C. Council, however, discriminates against religious and pro-life Americans, violates their conscience rights, and runs completely counter to the ‘free exercise’ clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. As a proud pro-life Catholic, I condemn this form of discrimination and urge the president to reconsider his veto threat of our joint resolution.”

Congresswoman Diane Black, a pro-life Tennessee Republican, was the lead sponsor  of H.J. Res. 43, a resolution she authored to overturn the District of Columbia’s misnamed Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Act (RHNDA). She said that, if not stopped by Congress, this unconstitutional measure could force pro-life organizations in D.C. to hire personnel that disagree with their mission and potentially pay for abortion in their healthcare plans.

“At its core, the Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Act is perhaps the most discriminatory ‘nondiscrimination’ law we have seen to date. I am proud that the House took a stand for religious freedom and acted to protect the First Amendment rights of pro-life Washingtonians by passing my resolution to overturn RHNDA,” said Black. “While this particular law only applies to the District of Columbia, it sets a dangerous precedent for future legislation that could further weaken our long-held tradition of respecting Americans’ conscience rights. I am pleased that despite the many outrageous mischaracterizations of this resolution from some of my colleagues across the aisle, the measure ultimately received bipartisan support – affirming that protecting religious freedom is not a Republican or Democrat value, it is an American value.”

Unfortunately, should the Senate pass the resolution, President Barack Obama apparently believes pro-life organizations should be forced to hire pro-abortion employees.

Obama says he will veto it. In an email LifeNews obtained, the White House announced the veto threat.

“The Administration strongly opposes H.J. Res. 43, which would overturn the District of Columbia’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014,” the White House said. “This legislation would give employers cover to fire employees for the personal decisions they make about birth control and their reproductive health.  These personal decisions should not jeopardize anyone’s job or terms of employment.”

“The Act preserves the current exception in the District’s Human Rights Law for religious entities and does not impose additional requirements on employers, contrary to their personal beliefs, to provide insurance coverage related to reproductive health decisions,” it claims. “If the President were presented with H.J. Res. 43, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto this resolution.”

But the National Right to Life Committee, in a letter to members of Congress, outlined the many problems with the RHDNA measure the House resolution opposes.

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The RHNDA prohibits employers within the District from engaging in “discrimination” on the basis of “decisions” reached by employees, or potential employees, regarding “reproductive health” matters. It is not disputed that abortion is among the matters encompassed by the term “reproductive health” as used in the new law. The scope of the RHNDA is very broad, covering any “decisions” that are “related to the use . . . of a particular . . . medical service . . .” [emphasis added]

The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) advocates for recognition that each unborn child is a member of the human family, and that each abortion stops a beating heart and ends the life of a developing human being. That viewpoint is shared by many women who once believed otherwise and submitted to abortions, and by many men who once believed otherwise and were complicit in abortion; such persons number among the most committed activists within our organization and other pro-life organizations. Yet it would be intolerable for an advocacy organization such as ours to be required to hire, or prohibited from firing, a person who makes a “decision” to engage in advocacy or any other activity that is directly antithetical to our core mission to lawfully advocate for the civil rights of the unborn.

Under the RHNDA, using any “decision . . . related to” abortion to inform decisions about hiring, firing, or benefits (among other things) would expose our organization both to enforcement actions by the District government bureaucracy, and to private lawsuits (some of which would likely be engendered by “sting” operations by pro-abortion advocates).

Some have suggested that we would be protected from such results by a clause in the pre-existing D.C. Human Rights Act that makes narrow allowance for “giving preference to persons of the same religion or political persuasion” as a controlling “religious or political organization.” But NRLC is neither a political nor a religious organization as those terms are used in the law. NRLC is not “operated, supervised or controlled by” any religious institution or political party, as the law requires to claim the narrow exemption. Moreover, our staff is made up of persons who are personally affiliated with a wide variety of religious bodies, or with none, and persons who belong to a variety of political parties, or to none.

Article I of the U.S. Constitution provides that Congress shall “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” with respect to the seat of government, the federal District. Therefore, the RHNDA has been enacted with legal authority delegated to the District Council by Congress; that local body has no other political authority whatever under the Constitution. It follows that members of Congress are responsible for, and accountable for, abuses of the legal authority that Congress has delegated to District officials. The RHNDA is just such an abuse of delegated power – it is a politically motivated attack on our organization and the other organizations that seek to vindicate the human rights of unborn children.

A leading pro-life member of Congress says the measure is necessary to protect the religious liberties of pro-life groups.

“The upcoming House vote on the resolution to disapprove of the D.C. Council’s encroachment on religious liberty is a direct result of the persistent efforts of Republican Study Committee members,” Rep.  Bill Flores (R-TX) said.

He told LifeNews: “We first flagged this issue when the D.C. Council passed the law and have been resolute in our belief that Congress has the right and the responsibility to act in defense of our constitutional freedom of belief. This is not about one city, but rather about preserving the First Amendment right to religious liberty for all Americans.”

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A top pro-life advocate in Washington provides more background on what’s happened and how RHNDA abrogates the rights of pro-life groups.

“RHNDA was adopted by the D.C. City Council late last year and transmitted to Congress on March 6 for a Congressional review period of 30 legislative days. The law will be enacted at the expiration of the 30 day period unless a joint resolution of disapproval is enacted. On April 21 H.J. Res. 43 was approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on a party line vote of 20-16,” says Jonathan Imbody, Vice President for Government Relations for the Christian Medical Association.

He explains: “RHNDA could restrict the First Amendment freedoms of pro-life organizations in two ways: Force a religious or pro-life advocacy group to make personnel decisions inconsistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions about the sanctity of human life. Mandate that religious and pro-life advocacy organizations provide insurance coverage for surgical abortion.”

The resolution, H.J. Res. 43, disapproves of the District’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA), which requires employers to provide health insurance covering the termination of unborn children and to hire individuals who may advocate for those practices, even if that goes against the employer’s religious beliefs.