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D.C.-based pro-life groups challenge local bill requiring them to cover abortion

If the bill passes its second vote November 18, it heads to the mayor's desk for final approval.
Tue Nov 4, 2014 - 2:22 pm EST
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Some of the nation's largest pro-life groups are joining forces to oppose a bill that would require them to insure abortion and contraceptives for employees.

On May 6, District of Columbia Council At-Large member David Grossu introduced the "Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014." The legislation says, "An employer or employment agency shall not discriminate against an individual...on the basis of the individual’s or a dependent’s reproductive health decision making." This includes, says the bill, "a decision to use or access a particular drug, device or medical service, because of or on the basis of an employer’s personal beliefs about such service."

According to Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, this means pro-life groups such as the Family Research Council and March for Life must fund abortions. In June, ADF and seven leading pro-life organizations signed a letter to the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety opposing the bill. Mattox, who testified at a hearing on the bill, wrote a subsequent letter on October 23 that was signed by six pro-life groups opposing the legislation.

However, their efforts could not stop it from passing its first Council vote on October 28. Mattox told LifeSiteNews that the Council will again vote on November 18, and passage would leave the bill on the mayor's desk.

The ADF's letters explain that the bill should be considered both illegal and unconstitutional, the former because of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Weldon Amendment. The Weldon Amendment does not allow federal agencies or state and local governments receiving federal education, labor, or health care funds to discriminate because of another entity's views on abortion.

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Constitutional issues arise, says the second ADF letter, because of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, which declared that RFRA upheld the rights of closely-held corporations to religious liberty from the HHS mandate. "As Bill 20-790 goes far beyond anything at issue in Hobby Lobby," says the letter, "requiring even nonprofit religious organizations (not for profits) to provide even elective abortion coverage to their employees, the burden on religious exercise here is all the greater. Further, the District has not even attempted to offer any compelling interest or to explain how this mandate is the least restrictive means of serving such an interest."

"If the federal government failed this test with its more limited mandate, the District cannot pretend that its far more onerous mandate passes muster."

Additionally, says the more recent letter, the constitutional rights to free expression and free speech would be violated.

“Pro-life organizations must be free to operate according to the beliefs they espouse," Mattox told LifeSiteNews. "The DC Council has no business ignoring federal law and forcing pro-life organizations to hire those who oppose their mission or to force any employer to pay for abortions.”

Grossu's office declined to comment to LifeSiteNews about the bill, and City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson did not respond to a request for comment about the bill's status.

"We have received no responses whatsoever" from the Council, says Mattox.


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