City Desk

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

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  • http://orionadvert.com Susan Bodiker

    If ever there were a time for "nullification," this would be it. If sheriffs in Western states can refuse to enforce gun control legislation, if Kansas can threaten to overturn legitimately enacted education funding regulations, then the city of the District of Columbia can jolly well ignore/nullify this abortion ruling should it come to pass.

    What's the worst that can happen? Trent Franks will scold us? The bishops will pray for our souls? Please!

    As for Eleanor Holmes Norton, this is such an embarrassment for her and waste of effort for DC. A silenced representative is worse than no representative at all. It's undignified, insulting and shows the folly of our current policy. Let's get a lobbying firm or some other entity that can more effectively advocate for our interests.

  • Zach

    I hate to say it, but this is why DC not paying federal income taxes is probably the best method we have to fight back. Think about it - if we can't get voting representation because we're not a state, we can't pay federal income taxes because we're not a state - see the 16th Amendment for that one. My guess is, if people started a legal challenge trying to get us exempted from that, that'd get the feds' attention.

    I'd rather have taxation with representation, of course. But if we're going to be stepped on like this, we should have a way to respond - or threaten to. Otherwise, what good will the howling do?

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  • Cara Shockley

    What sticks in my craw is that my District Taxes are completely separate from my Federal ones. As long as they have to be filed separately, it's sophistry to pretend our local Medicaid dollars are somehow Federal funding.

    Zach's solution could be implemented with a constitutional query to the Supreme Court. How do we file one?

  • http://dcstatehoodyesweca.org A. Loikow

    House Republicans' actions on H.R. 7 to treat the District of Columbia and over 650,000 Americans as another federal agency and to attempt to deny D.C. voters the right to determine how their LOCAL tax monies are spent is a clear and compelling example of why all Americans should support ending D.C.'s colonial status and support statehood for the residential and commercial parts of D.C. Congress can keep the federal monumental core of the current district as its playground, but the people of D.C. should have the same right to self-government as other Americans.

    We helped fight to create this nation and over the past two centuries D.C. residents have fought and died, often at much higher percentages of the population than in number of states, for the rights of other Americans -- and often the people of other nations -- only to come home to be denied those same democratic rights here.

    Americans should be ashamed. We are NOT the land of the free unless we are ALL free. Please urge your Senators and Congressperson to support and vote for the New Columbia Admission Act (H.R. 292 and S. 132). Freedom and the right to self-government should be the birthright of ALL Americans!

  • Mike not Ike

    I think a member more respected and open minded than our current delegate would get a lot more done.

  • Margaret Thompson

    Helen Alvare USED to be the Pro-Life person for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops--in other words, the USCCB was really responsible for 2 of the 3 people who were allowed to testify. This is outrageous.

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