Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday to permanently prevent the District of Columbia from using its own taxpayer money to pay for abortions, setting up an election-year debate on social issues.
The bill would prevent abortions from being considered tax-exempt medical procedures, would permanently ban federal taxpayer money going to fund abortions except in cases of rape, incest or where the mother’s life is at stake, and would permanently prohibit the nation’s capital from using city money to pay for abortions.
“[This legislation] will ensure American taxpayers are not involved with destroying innocent life through abortion on demand,” Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, said at the House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday. “We are beginning to realize as Americans that taking the lives of the innocent unborn does not liberate anyone.”
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, cleared the committee on a 22-12 party line vote.
Democrats tried to carve the District out of the new restrictions and allow city officials to spend money as they see fit.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s non-voting member of Congress, said the bill breaks faith with an agreement between the federal government and the city to try to give local officials more power over their finances.
“This bill moves its sponsors from extremist to fanaticism,” she said.
The Constitution gives Congress exclusive powers over the District, which includes overseeing all city spending. Republicans said that means they have a duty to make sure public money within the city isn’t going to pay for a medical procedure many of their constituents find objectionable. Doctors and clinics paid by the city would also not be able to perform the procedures.
Democrats introduced several other amendments Tuesday to try to chip away at and weaken the bill. They ranged from allowing pregnant women with cancer to terminate a pregnancy to pursue life-saving treatment to requiring federal doctors who are restricted from performing abortions to still be able to discuss that option with their patients.
Democrats also tried to connect abortion to the ongoing debate over unemployment benefits.
Rep. Ted Deutch, Florida Democrat, proposed extending unemployment insurance benefits for three months, which he said would ensure “the lights will stay on, the heat will be provided, people can put food on their table even as they continue searching for work.”
House Republicans defeated Mr. Deutch’s amendment.
Responding to Democratic criticism that Republicans are out of touch with American priorities for job creation, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, said preventing abortions actually creates jobs, since raising children requires day care, diapers, and other goods and services.
“It also is very, very true that having a growing population and having new children brought into the world is not harmful to job creation,” he said.
Democrats held a rally just prior to the hearing where members spoke to a large group of pro-choice protesters, saying the legislation marks the kickoff of the Republican’s second war on women.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, New York Democrat, said it is not right for men to dictate what choices women can make about their bodies when women have never tried to impose their views on men.
“Never in the history of the republic, to the best of my knowledge, have a group of women ever gotten together to lobby to do away with vasectomies or prostate operations as long as men were of child-bearing age,” she said.
While the bill will move forward to the House floor, it is unlikely it would pass the Democratically-controlled Senate nor be signed into law by President Obama.