Faith-Based Healthcare Providers in D.C. Must Be Able to Staff in Accordance With Their Mission
Katharine Glenn Testimony– D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety, “Abortion Provider Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2017”
Thank you, Mr. Chairperson Allen, and members of the committee. My name is Katie Glenn, and I serve as Policy Counsel for 1stAmendment Partnership, based here in Washington. I am also a DC resident. We at 1AP are privileged to promote and protect religious freedom for all Americans. We work with the nation’s largest faith communities with respect to their common commitment to 1stAmendment freedoms. I’m not speaking for any of them in particular—but I can speak generally about their concerns.
The ability of organizations and individuals to act consistent with their deeply held religious convictions without fear of government penalty is the very core of what it means to have meaningful 1stAmendment freedoms at all.
Since at least the 1958 case, NAACP v. Alabama, the Supreme Court has recognized expressive association as a right foundational to other 1stAmendment rights. Indeed, as the Court held in that case, the freedom to associate with organizations dedicated to the advancement of particular beliefs and ideas is an inseparable part of the Due Process Clause.
This Amendment, B22-0571, places the associational rights of those with sincerely held objections to abortion at risk. It would isolate them from civic life and prevent them from serving the Washington community.
Faith-based healthcare providers choose to use their time and talents to serve their neighbors precisely because of their deeply held belief in the dignity of every human life—the belief system being ostracized by this overly broad amendment.
The lack of any exemptions for faith-based healthcare providers is incredibly troubling. Despite our deep differences on the underlying issue of abortion, no organization should be told that it can’t hire in accordance with its mission. Such a requirement would be heavy handed. It would be wrong. If people can’t organically organize based on shared values and vision, what’s the point of having a mission at all?
Since Roe, our laws have routinely protected the conscience rights of healthcare professionals and faith-based providers. While the medical procedures they refuse might be legal, participation would violate the conscience of the individual or the belief system that is the central mission to the organization. Two commonly objected to procedures are specifically listed in this Amendment: abortion and sterilization.
This Amendment is so broadly written that even purely private organizations that receive no federal or local funding are included. “Any organization engaged in the provision of healthcare in any manner” sweeps in everyone. Even a clinic that receives not a single cent of taxpayer money is still burdened by this rule. Adding this kind of measure to nondiscrimination law and covering this many providers without any exemptions is unprecedented.
This Amendment would dramatically transform the nature of human rights ordinances. At the local, state, and federal levels, nondiscrimination laws have traditionally been thoughtfully crafted to include protected classes based only on immutable characteristics or a history of being singled out for legal and societal stigmatization.
Adding a protected class based on a volitional choice of “willingness to participate in” or “attitudes or views related to abortion or sterilization” opens this area of law to a host of unintended consequences that strike at the heart of core 1stAmendment freedoms. Protected classes should not be established based upon the pet causes of whomever holds political power at any given time.
That may be the reason this approach is so uncommon; it simply blurs too many lines in a way that is averse to the conscience rights of others.
This proposed amendment burdens the freedom of association and religious freedom of faith-based healthcare providers. It is overly broad and does not provide the proper exemptions to uphold the 1stAmendment rights of those with conscientious objections to abortion or sterilization. This amendment is a solution in search of a problem, and it would interfere with the critical work of crisis pregnancy centers.
This amendment would prevent faith-based healthcare providers from operating based on their mission, caring for their neighbors, and serving their community.
For all these reasons, I urge you to reject B22-0571.