House GOP Again Tries to Restrict Abortion in D.C.
Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona called a hearing today that largely focused on why it would be best for the residents of D.C. to have their access to abortions restricted, and he made sure the District's only elected representative in Congress couldn't testify on the matter.
Chaired by Franks, the hearing in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution discussed legislation that would ban the District from using local tax revenues for abortions, even though the city has some of the most liberal laws on reproductive freedoms in the country. More broadly, the bill, "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," would ban states from using federal funds to pay for abortions and restrict insurance coverage for reproductive health care, including abortions.
But while states could choose to use their own money for abortions, the legislation cites the Home Rule Charter and says that because Congress approves D.C.'s budget, the city's local budget would be considered federal funding. (The bill would essentially continue a ban Congress passed as part of a budget deal in 2011.)
Franks also recently pushed legislation that would ban abortion in D.C. after 20 weeks.
Things got tense when Franks said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton would not be allowed to testify. When New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, a Democrat who also sits on the subcommittee, pushed him on this issue, arguing that Norton's constituency is uniquely affected by this legislation, Franks said he saw no reason for her to testify. (He said the subcommittee only allows members of the panel to speak, though traditionally committees let lawmakers whose districts are impacted by legislation testify at relevant hearings.)
Norton was present for the hearing, even though she couldn't testify.
The three people who did testify were Helen M. Alvaré, a George Mason University law professor who spoke in favor of the legislation, arguing that abortion is "not a part of any genuine “women’s health” agenda"; Susan Franklin Wood, an associate professor of health policy at George Washington University, who said the bill would negatively affect American women and families; and Richard Doerflinger, who spoke on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and called the legislation a "well-crafted and reasonable measure."
The good news for the District is that even if the bill does make it through the House, it's unlikely to pass the Senate, which Democrats control. But this isn't the first—and likely won't the be the last—time that members of Congress use D.C. to push their own messages.
"We are one jurisdiction up against a House which we do not control," Norton said at a press conference with Mayor Vince Gray before the hearing.
Gray encouraged Franks to run for elected office in D.C. if he's so interested in the city's local politics.
"Some of the policies that he's now espousing would probably lead him not to be elected in the District of Columbia," he said.
Additional reporting by Will Sommer
Photo via Wikimedia Commons