The House Judiciary Committee will consider a bill Wednesday that would ban abortions in the District 20 weeks into pregnancy, a measure that pro-life advocates tout as a moral approach to abortion policy in the nation's capital even as city officials decry it as affront to their home rule.
Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, has secured 214 co-sponsors since introducing the bill in January, to the chagrin of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting member of Congress.
Local officials see the proposed law as an intrusion on their right to govern roughly 600,000 city residents who do not have a voice in Congress yet are subjected to bills and legislative riders that affect their lives. They say decisions about abortion in the District should be left to lawmakers elected by voters under home-rule provisions the city has enjoyed for about 40 years.
Mrs. Norton on Tuesday deemed the bill "unprincipled," because it applies exclusively to the District. Federal lawmakers, she has said, would not dare to propose a bill that singled out a state with representation in Congress.
Mr. Franks' bill could be an important barometer for the District's standing vis-a-vis the Republican-controlled House. The city's Democratic leaders have made progress on a federal bill that would grant the city budget autonomy -- the right to spend its local funds without prior approval through the federal appropriations process -- although they could face fallout from confirmation of an off-the-books campaign effort during Mr. Gray's 2010 mayoral bid and the resignation of two council members who pleaded guilty to unrelated felonies earlier this year.
Members of Congress charged with oversight of D.C. affairs have been silent on the recent scandals.
Mrs. Norton protested Mr. Franks' bill on the House floor Tuesday. She said Mr. Franks, as chairman, did not provide her a slot to testify during a subcommittee hearing on his bill in May, "so I testify for one minute today," she told the full House. She said the bill is premised on unfounded fears, citing statistics that show three-fourths of abortions in the District occur within 10 weeks of fertilization.
"Its bogus science is matched by the absence of a need," Mrs. Norton said of the bill.
Prohibitions contained in the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would not apply in cases where an abortion is necessary to protect the life of the pregnant woman or prevent an "irreversible physical impairment" to her. However, it would still apply in cases of rape, incest or if the fetus has a medical condition.
At the subcommittee hearing in May, Mr. Franks said the abortion of fetuses that can feel pain "is, in my opinion, the greatest human rights atrocity in the United States today." The nation's capital could become a safe haven for such procedures if nothing is done, and Congress has the constitutional right to execute legislative authority over the District, he said.
The National Right to Life Committee is aggressively promoting the bill, noting seven states have passed similar legislation. On Tuesday, the group released results of a poll that says respondents, after learning the District's does not place restrictions on how late into term an abortion may be performed, would be more likely to vote for federal lawmakers who support Mr. Franks' bill.
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