A new bill in California is sending a clear message to employers: Workers should be able to manage their reproductive health however they see fit, and they can't be punished for it.
Last week state legislators passed the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA), or Assembly Bill 569, which prohibits employers from taking action against workers who make reproductive-health decisions they disagree with, such as using birth control, getting an abortion, or conceiving through in-vitro fertilization. The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk on Thursday.
"Women in this country have been fired for getting pregnant while unmarried, for using in-vitro fertilization, and for other personal reasons related to their own reproductive health," Gonzalez Fletcher said in a statement. "No woman should ever lose a job for exercising her right to decide when, how, or whether to have a family."
The RHNDA also stops employers from requiring new hires to sign codes of conduct around their reproductive-health decisions. These agreements, typically created by religious employers, have stipulations regarding contraception, abortion, and sexual activity outside of marriage. And if employees break these agreements, they can expose themselves to being penalized or terminated. That was the case of Teri James, who was allegedly fired from San Diego Christian College in 2012 because she became pregnant outside of marriage.
If Gov. Brown signs the bill into law, it would set the stage for yet another battle over religious freedom. One of the main critics of the RHNDA is California Family Council president Jonathan Keller, who argues the bill won't let religious organizations follow their pro-life beliefs.
"Every organization that promotes a pro-life message must be able to require its employees to practice what they preach," Keller said in a statement. "The right to freely exercise one’s religion is enshrined in our Constitution, and has always protected every American’s ability to freely associate around shared beliefs and practices. It is unconscionable for any politician to attempt to abridge this sacrosanct religious liberty by inserting themselves into the employee-employer relationship."
But 16 faith-based organizations signed a letter in support of the RHNDA last spring, urging lawmakers to pass it.
"Americans strongly reject the use of religion as a tool to limit access to healthcare. The proper role of government in the United States is not to privilege one set of religious views over others, but to protect each person’s right and ability to make decisions according to their own beliefs and values," the letter read. "The RHNDA would prevent the interests and bottom line of institutions from usurping the health and well‐being of those in need of care."