WASHINGTON, D.C., May 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) — Last night, three Democrats joined nearly all Republicans in a vote to protect religious liberty in Washington, D.C.
In a highly-anticipated vote, the House voted 228-192 in favor of a resolution that disapproves of the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act (RHNDA). RHNDA was signed by the mayor of the District of Columbia, Muriel Bowser, in January, and makes it illegal for any employer, including religious and pro-life organizations, to use a person's belief or actions about abortion in employment considerations. Abortion coverage by employers is also required.
The resolution now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to fail due to inaction by Republican leadership. Under existing federal law, the measure has 30 legislative days to be disapproved by Congress and President Obama. If this does not happen, it becomes law — which is expected to happen by week's end.
The pro-life disapproval resolution was introduced by Rep. Dianne Black, R-TN. A similar measure has been introduced in the Senate, but will not be acted upon. Its passage into law was always in question, given President Obama's pro-abortion stance, and his veto threat of the resolution on Thursday.
RHNDA has drawn support from those who say it prevents discrimination against women, but opposition from Catholic groups like the Cardinal Newman Society. The Catholic-based group says the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision in 2014 should pre-empt the law.
It also drew opposition from former D.C. mayor Vincent Gray, who last year wrote of his office's concerns that the Act would violate both federal law and the First Amendment related to religious liberty. While Gray “applaud[s] the goals of this legislation,” his assessment noted that the Act's language could be considered a violation of the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal treatment, as its supporters are only aiming to protect alleged rights of one gender.
Passage of the resolution into law is uncertain given the pro-abortion preferences of President Obama. Additionally, a bill that passes the House first, and then the Senate, would need to pass a 60-vote threshold in Congress' upper chamber — though if the GOP-dominated Senate were to pass its own bill first, only a 50-vote threshold would be required.
In a public statement, Family Research Council Legislative Assistant Jamie Dangers praised the House for passing the disapproval resolution. “Passage of this resolution is one step in the right direction in restoring the First Amendment for D.C.,” said Dangers. “The new law violates the basic freedom of organizations in the District to operate according to their sincerely held beliefs on elective abortion. No one should be forced to participate in abortion advocacy against their beliefs.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, said that his chamber acted because “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.”
In a statement, Black said that RHNDA “is perhaps the most discriminatory ‘nondiscrimination’ law we have seen to date. I am proud that the House took a stand for religious freedom,” said the pro-life leader. “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.”
Black also said that the bipartisan support is “affirming that protecting religious freedom is not a Republican or Democrat value, it is an American value.”
Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, spoke in favor of Black's resolution on the House floor, citing pro-life groups, Gray, and legal experts in his comments.
Three pro-life Democrats who voted for the resolution: Dan Lipinski of Illinois, who co-chairs the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-life Caucus; Collin Peterson of Minnesota, a longtime pro-life Democrat who represents a rural district; and Henry Cuellar of Texas.
A total of 13 Republicans voted against the resolution, including freshman Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York, who won her race in 2014 as a pro-life Republican and with significant support from the pro-life community.
Other Republicans who voted against the bill include Bob Dold of Illinois, who in 2012 introduced legislation to enshrine federal funding for Planned Parenthood into law. Rep. Richard Hanna of New York has likewise earned pro-life ire in the past, including for a vote against defunding Planned Parenthood last year.
Pro-abortion Democrats, however, have used the disapproval debate to defend abortion. Last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, said in a statement today that the “allowing employers to fire employees for using birth control, or in vitro fertilization, or any other reproductive health care service is an unconscionable intrusion into workers’ personal lives.”
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Pelosi's statement came one day after D.C.'s Democratic non-voting representative to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, held a press conference with Catholics for Choice, national homosexual activist groups, and a national atheist organization, among other groups opposed to the House's action.
Norton and those who joined her at the press conference said disapproving of RHNDA was an example of Congress meddling in local affairs, and on the House floor yesterday Norton said the resolution was part of a “war on women.”
However, March for Life Action Vice President Tom McClusky told LifeSiteNews that it was abortion groups who were interfering with local wishes.
“The list of those supporting this effort to take away the rights of D.C. residents are mostly national groups with little interest of the day to day concerns of those who live in the nation's capital,” McClusky said. “Those who oppose the liberal attempts represent D.C. charities, schools, and relief services.”
“Eleanor Holmes Norton would like to portray this as the U.S. Congress vs. the D.C. people when in fact this is the D.C. government against the religious and moral freedoms of D.C. residents,” he told LifeSiteNews.
The House did not take up the “Human Rights Amendment Act” (HRAA), which was also signed by Bowser. According to the HRAA Committee Report published by the District of Columbia City Council on October 15, 2014, “educational institutions affiliated with religious organizations would not be allowed to prohibit gay and lesbian students groups from using the school facilities and services.”
A spokesperson for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform told LifeSiteNews that the committee, which has jurisdiction over the District of Columbia and passed the RHNDA resolution, would not act on disapproving HRAA because “the Council of the District of Columbia’s legislation…is unconstitutional from a First Amendment perspective and it is in conflict with an existing act of Congress. In either case, it will not stand, and does not require Committee action.”
HRAA is also expected to become law this weekend.