D.C. authority at center of battle on abortion funding

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Republicans signaled Thursday that they will try to permanently ban taxpayer-funded abortions in the District of Columbia, igniting a furious backlash from city officials who said the move is an effort to change a 40-year understanding between the city and the federal government.

The Republicans’ proposed No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would permanently stop the D.C. government from spending its own money, collected from local taxpayers, to pay for abortions. Congress has passed one-year measures but has never enacted a permanent ban.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s nonvoting member of Congress, said Thursday that the measure singles out the District unfairly.

“It snatches power — local power, local authority — from the District of Columbia and its people,” Ms. Norton said.

The two D.C. Democrats also said the act would break the principles behind the Home Rule Act of 1973, which granted the city a major degree of autonomy in managing its own affairs.

For years, city leaders have protested what they see as Republican encroachment on the city’s laws and initiatives — its medical marijuana and needle exchange programs, for instance — in the form of legislative add-ons, or “riders,” that are tacked onto spending bills or other legislation.

The Constitution grants ultimate legislative oversight of the District to Congress, which has produced flare-ups between locals and the Capitol.

Last year, Senate Democrats rebuffed a House-led bill to let the District use its locally raised dollars during the partial federal government shutdown, citing their aversion to the Republicans’ piecemeal attempts to fund the government.

The abortion bill is sponsored by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican.

Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican and chairman of a Judiciary subcommittee with jurisdiction over constitutional issues, held a hearing on the bill Thursday but denied Ms. Norton’s request to testify.

Republican members cited committee rules that restrict the participation of members who do not sit on the Judiciary Committee, and Mr. Franks rebuffed D.C. autonomy claims.

“The District of Columbia is the seat of this government, according to the Constitution, and not a state. And consequently, we will proceed,” he said.

Democrats noted that only men were called to testify and said Republicans haven’t learned from the 2012 elections, when the party lost key seats on Capitol Hill in part because of controversial comments about abortion and rape.

“You can’t really teach them how to understand something,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Despite criticism from the left, Republican lawmakers rallied behind the bill, which also threatens to strip down the Affordable Care Act by banning the use of federal funds for health care benefits that include the coverage of abortion.

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