D.C. contraceptive coverage law called an “unprecedented assault” on religious freedom

While the country waits to see how the Seventh Circuit revisits the University of Notre Dame case per the Supreme Court’s remand, a new D.C. law has sparked a bit of controversy, as some say it attempts to overturn the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014 would prevent employers from taking action against workers based on their decision to use birth control or seek an abortion. It amends the District’s Human Rights Act, which deals with employment discrimination, and adds to the Act language stating that an employer cannot discriminate in “compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment” because of an employee’s or a dependent’s “reproductive health decision making, including a decision to use or access a particular drug, device or medical service.”

There is no language in the bill that either singles out or grants exceptions to religious employers, and a committee report says that the bill “is not about insurance coverage, but rather about employment discrimination.” That being said, the committee report also makes clear that the bill is in response to the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. It states that “while federal and state laws have been enacted that demonstrate a committment to protect individuals against employment discrimination, a loophole exists that leaves employees vulnerable to discrimination based on their reproductive health decisions.”

The bill ensures that “employees, as well as their spouses and dependents, are able to make their reproductive healthcare decisions without incurring adverse employment consequences because of their employer’s disapproval of those decisions.” Earlier this month, the D.C. Council also passed an emergency amendment to the reproductive health law to clarify that employers could not be forced to provide insurance coverage for contraception and abortions that they oppose on religious grounds.

The law, which was passed by the D.C. Council in mid-December, is now under a mandatory 30-day review period before Congress and will go into effect as early as next month if there is no Congressional action to prevent it. Conservative groups and politicians are scrambling to lead the charge against the bill.

A group of 16 various conservative organizations joined together in a letter demanding that Congress file a disapproval of D.C.’s Reproductive Heath Nondiscrimination Amendment Act of 2014 (see . Claiming that the law violates the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of association protected by the First Amendment and other federal laws, the group requested that the D.C. Council disapprove the Act. Heritage Action, one of the co-signers of the letter, called the law an “unprecedented assault” on religious freedom.

Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and James Lankford (R-Okla) are spearheading a campaign in Congress to prevent the laws from being enacted. In an article in the Washington Post, Lankford commented that “last summer’s Supreme Court decision affirmed the right to live and work in accordance with your convictions. In America, a person can choose a lifestyle of any faith or no faith at all—that’s religious freedom,” he said. “Washington, D.C., residents and organizations shouldn’t be discriminated from enjoying those same rights.”

In the same article, Kimberly Perry, head of D.C. Vote, an organization that lobbies for voting representation for the District in Congress, was critical of the Senators and their push to prevent the law. “Senators Cruz and Lankford’s move to disapprove a local District law is absurd and hypocritical,” Perry said. “They are now guilty of the same federal overreach they often criticize in others,” she stated.