“Abortion Law”: Media Adopt GOP's Characterization Of D.C. Anti-Discrimination Legislation

Media are parroting conservative lawmakers' and activist groups' characterization of the D.C. Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA) as an “abortion law,” an inaccurate portrayal the GOP is pushing in its effort to repeal the legislation. The law actually provides women vital protection from discrimination based on reproductive health decisions, like assisted pregnancy and even premarital sex.

Congress To Vote On Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act After Pressure From Conservatives

Congress To Vote On Repeal Of Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act. Facing “pressure from conservatives” House Republicans moved on April 28 to schedule a vote to block D.C.'s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act. The measure, sponsored by Republican Rep. Diane Black (TN), would undo a D.C. law signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser on Jan 25 by using Congress' power to override the city's law through a “rarely used parliamentary maneuver to override the will of local elected officials.” [Bloomberg, 4/29/15]

Conservative Groups And Lawmakers Frame RHNDA As An Abortion Issue. In the push to overturn the law, GOP lawmakers like Rep. Diane Blackhave framed it as a “coercive measure [that] would ban pro-life organizations in D.C. from even considering a job seeker's views on abortion as a condition of employment.” According to CNN, conservative organizations such as the Heritage Foundation have also pushed to block RHNDA, claiming “anti-abortion rights groups based in Washington would be faced with decisions about hiring candidates that could conflict with their beliefs”:

The new House resolution, sponsored by Tennessee Rep. Diane Black, says the D.C. law, the “Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act,” accomplishes the opposite of what its name implies.

“This coercive measure would ban pro-life organizations in D.C. from even considering a job seeker's views on abortion as a condition of employment,” Black said in a statement. “This is an affront to the conscience rights of every American who believes, as I do, in the cause of protecting the unborn. Congress must not remain silent while this injustice unfolds.”

The Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups have pressed the GOP-led Congress to block the D.C. law. In an analysis published by two Heritage policy analysts, the group asserts that anti-abortion rights groups based in Washington would be faced with decisions about hiring candidates that could conflict with their beliefs.

“Organizations whose mission is to empower women facing unplanned pregnancies with physical and emotional support or who advocate for policies that affirm the dignity and value of both mother and child could be forced to provide health insurance for the life-ending procedure they oppose,” the report states. [CNN, 4/21/15]

Media Adopt GOP Language To Narrowly Frame RHNDA As An “Abortion Law”

Politico: “Conservatives Demand Vote To Reject D.C. Abortion Law.” Politico described the RHNDA as an “abortion law” that is “aimed at stopping employers from firing workers because of abortions or contraceptive use,” in an April 29 article. The article highlighted opponents who claimed that the law would “discriminate against D.C. residents with pro-life views” by forcing employers “to cover abortions in their health plans and require pro-life organization to hire abortion advocates.”  [Politico4/29/15]

CNN: Congress To Vote To Block “DC Abortion Law.” CNN referred to RHNDA as the “DC abortion law” that “ban[s] city employers from taking punitive action against employees for using abortion services or birth control” in an April 29 post. The post highlighted the House Freedom Caucus' claim that the anti-discrimination measure “would discriminate against D.C. residents with pro-life views.” [CNN, 4/29/15]

But The Non-Discrimination Act  Protects More Than Abortion Rights, Including All Reproductive Health Choices

D.C. Committee OThe Judiciary And Public Safety: RHNDA Helps Address “Potential Gaps In Legislation That Enable Employers To Discriminate Against Employees.” An October 2014 report from the Council of the District of Columbia's Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety explained that the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act was meant to help address gaps the committee found in the city's anti-discrimination legislation after witnesses detailed reproductive health discrimination “for seeking to prevent pregnancy, pursuing pregnancy through the use of reproductive technology, or having sex outside of marriage.” The report explains that the measure “ensures that employees, as well as their spouses and dependents, are able to make their reproductive health care decisions without incurring adverse employment consequences because of their employers' disapproval of those decisions.” [Council of the District of Columbia, 10/15/14]

National Women's Law Center: Women Are “At Serious Risk of Workplace Discrimination Based On Their Reproductive Health Decisions.” In their June 2014 testimony of support for the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act, the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) explained that women face a “serious risk of workplace discrimination based on their reproductive health decisions.” Pointing to numerous cases of discrimination that included women fired for pursuing pregnancy through assisted reproductive technology such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization, “for having sex outside of marriage,” and for using birth control, NWLC explained the need for the RHNDA, saying “It is unfair that these women would be fired simply because of their private activities outside of the workplace, including the decision to start a family.” [National Women's Law Center, 6/23/14]

Planned Parenthood: RHNDA Protects Against Discrimination Based On Reproductive Health Choices Such As Family Planning. In an April 22 press release on the legislation, Planned Parenthood Action Fund explained that RHNDA protects employees in D.C. from losing their jobs based on reproductive health decisions such as “using in vitro fertilization or birth control”:

· The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act would protect employees who work in DC from workplace discrimination based on the employees' personal reproductive health care decisions. For example, it would prohibit an employer from firing an employee for using in vitro fertilization or birth control.

· RHNDA amends DC's Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy status, childbirth, or related medical conditions, by adding a provision prohibiting discrimination based on reproductive health decisions. [Planned Parenthood Action Fund, 4/22/15]