House votes to block DC reproductive health law
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The House voted on Thursday to prevent D.C. from receiving funding to implement a local law making it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers based on reproductive health decisions.

An amendment offered by Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) to a 2018 government-spending package would prohibit the use of funds for the District to implement the law, which bans employers from punishing workers for obtaining contraception, family planning services or abortions.

Palmer’s amendment was adopted on a mostly party-line vote of 214-194. Eleven Republicans joined with all but two Democrats in opposing the effort.

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The law has already been in effect for more than two years despite multiple efforts by Republicans in Congress to eliminate it.

It includes a provision that clarifies religious organizations don’t have to provide health insurance coverage for contraception or abortions.

But conservatives argued that the law nonetheless threatened to violate religious organizations’ right to freedom of religion and expression.

“This law prevents religious and pro-life advocacy organizations from making employment decisions consistent with their institutional mission,” Palmer said as he offered his amendment.

“Without my amendment, some employers in the District of Columbia would be forced to embrace the beliefs of the 13 members of the D.C. Council.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the District’s nonvoting delegate to Congress, blasted her colleagues for trying to reverse a law that doesn’t affect their constituents. Norton’s status as a delegate means she cannot cast votes on the House floor on legislation, or on the amendment affecting the part of the country she represents.

“Unlike the D.C. Council, which passed this law, no member of this Congress was elected to legislate on local D.C. matters or is accountable to the voters of the District of Columbia,” Norton said during House floor debate.

The House passed a resolution in 2015 to block the law, but it never moved through the Senate or to then-President Obama’s desk. Under the Home Rule Act, Congress can stop laws passed by the D.C. Council if lawmakers can clear a measure in both chambers and secure the president’s signature. 

The 2015 vote marked the first time either chamber of Congress had passed a bill to stop a D.C. law since 1991.

Palmer also offered the same amendment to a spending bill in 2016, which the House adopted on a 223-192 vote. It similarly did not make it through the Senate either.