House Votes to Repeal D.C. Law Protecting Workers’ Reproductive Health Choices

The D.C. law protects employees in the district from being fired for choices such as using birth control or getting an abortion.

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A biker rides past the U.S. Capitol , October 14, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Shortly before midnight Thursday, without fanfare, the U.S. House voted to repeal a Washington D.C. law that will prohibit employers from discriminating against workers who obtain abortions or use birth control.

The 228-192 vote was symbolic venting and conservative vote-scorecard padding, at most.

That’s because Monday is the legal deadline for Congress to override the District of Columbia law, and Speaker John Boehner held the vote after the Senate left town for the weekend. President Barack Obama wouldn’t sign the measure, anyhow.

So, what was the message?

“Fix it!” said Representative Bill Flores of Texas, chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, a group of about 170 members who pushed to get the vote on their scorecards.

Flores said that if he were on the D.C. Council and realized that the House of Representatives had passed a disapproval measure, he would consider undoing the law.

Not likely.

Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s non-voting member of the House, scoffed that while “Republicans have been champions of federalism and local control,” the goal this time “is to resume the war on women.”

The D.C. law, signed by Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser on Jan. 25, protects employees in the district from being fired for reproductive health choices such as using birth control or getting an abortion.

Members of Congress who want to overturn the law say it discriminates against employers who have religious objections to birth control and abortion. They argue that the law could force such employers to cover abortions in their health-care plans, or even to hire abortion activists.

Norton and others say the real intent is not only to infringe on women's reproductive rights, but also to slap at D.C. local decision-making. She said the vote was “a coming attraction” to what Republicans might try in other parts of the U.S.

That wasn’t what Republicans were saying.

Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, said the D.C. government shouldn’t tell employers they must “hire, retain, or promote someone who actively opposes their central mission or core beliefs.”

“What in the world is the connection between private health care decisions and work performance?” asked Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California. “This resolution is outrageous and undemocratic.”

Thirteen Republicans voted against the measure, while three Democrats joined 225 Republicans in passing it. Most of the Republicans voting no are from Northeastern states, or other more-moderate areas that could come into play in the 2016 election.

Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a co-chairman of a group of House centrists, was among them. He said in a statement Friday that he was disappointed that lawmakers engaged “in a futile exercise dealing with contentious social issues.”

“I have told my Republican colleagues time and again that we should remain focused on our message of economic growth and opportunity, which resonate with a vast majority of Americans,” he said.

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