The House has been hard at work in recent weeks passing spending bills to fund the government — but it's no secret that these bills are about more than just setting funding levels. As has been the case historically, these bills are a chance for Congress to show the American people where its priorities really lie. And this year, the agenda includes discriminating against women in the name of religious liberty.
Two harmful new policy riders make that crystal clear.
One is a sweeping provision called the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, which would allow any employer or insurance company to deny health insurance coverage for any health care service they have a religious or moral objection to, even if it's required by law. Under this exceptionally broad language, companies could deny coverage for a wide range of important preventive care, like mental health screenings, vaccines, or tests for cervical cancer, HIV, or Type 2 Diabetes.
It would also expand and entrench an existing policy rider called the Weldon Amendment that already obstructs women's access to abortion care, with language that could allow health care providers to deny patients basic services and information about their health and treatment options and would open the door to frivolous lawsuits.
As Rep. Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said in support of her amendment to strike the harmful language, "Freedom to your religious and moral beliefs does not and should never mean the freedom to impose your religious beliefs on other people — especially your employees."
And yet, the majority voted to include it in the final bill. Sadly, this is no surprise given the bill's overall disastrous impact on women's health.
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In another strike against women's health, the same committee voted to add language to another funding bill that would block a D.C. nondiscrimination law that protects employees in the nation's capital from workplace discrimination based on their reproductive health care decisions. The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act ensures, for example, that a woman isn't fired because she uses in vitro fertilization to get pregnant.
Having already tried — and failed — to stop the law from taking effect in the District, opponents of the RHNDA turned to the appropriations process as a way to force through their unsuccessful agenda.
So why go to such lengths to interfere with a sensible workplace protection?
Proponents of the amendment claim that RHNDA interferes with religious liberty. In fact, RHNDA does just the opposite — it protects employees' freedom of religion and belief by enabling them to make reproductive health care decisions according to their own beliefs rather than those of their employers.
Both spending bills, riders included, are now poised for the House floor. Tell Congress loud and clear: Don't use religion to discriminate. It's the wrong agenda.