The House voted late Thursday to strike down a Washington, D.C., law that Republicans fear might force anti-abortion groups in the District to hire pro-abortion workers, a requirement the GOP says is a violation of religious freedom.
At issue is a law called the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act. Supporters of the measure say it would protect people from being discriminated against in their job based on their beliefs about reproductive rights or decisions to have abortions.
But Republican opponents say the law is vague, and holds that employers can't discriminate against anyone based on their reproductive health care choices. They fear it could go so far as to force anti-abortion groups working in D.C. to hire people who disagree with that mission, and say it needs to be struck down.
"While the law's supporters in the big-abortion lobby claim that this act protects against discrimination, the truth is this oppressive measure directly targets the First Amendment freedoms of pro-life and faith-based employers in our nation's capital," said Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), the sponsor of the resolution opposing the law. "Congress has a constitutional duty to ensure that our laws are upheld in the District of Columbia and we would be shirking our duties as legislators to allow this discriminatory 'nondiscrimination' act to go unchallenged."
Democrats opposed the resolution, and cast it as a GOP attack against reproductive rights.
"How many times have our Republican colleagues come to this floor to express their belief in reducing the role of ... the federal government?" asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "How many time have they come to the floor to preach their deference to states' rights and local government?"
"And how many times have these House Republicans thrown all of that out the window when it comes to ... government meddling in the reproductive choices of America's families?" she asked.
Under the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, laws passed by the District can be nullified if Congress acts against them within 30 days. Congress can act against these laws by passing a resolution that disapproves of the D.C. measure.
Black's resolution of disapproval passed the House 228-192, in a mostly party line vote. Just three Democrats voted for it, while 13 Republicans voted against it.
As a next step, it will have to pass the Senate and then be signed by the president.
The 30 day deadline means the Senate has to act in the next few days, a tall order for a chamber that traditionally moves very slowly. But even if it can pass the Senate soon, President Barack Obama is not expected to sign it, and supporters acknowledge that the goal of the resolution is to at least force Democrats to deal with the issue by voting on it.