The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill on Wednesday that bans abortions in the District 20 weeks into pregnancy, despite objections by Democrats and city leaders that the bill unreasonably singles out residents of the nation’s capital.
Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, introduced the bill in January based on the belief the fetus would feel pain. He had obtained more than 200 co-sponsors in the Republican-controlled House as of Wednesday’s markup. The legislation, which passed the committee on an 18-14 vote, will be forwarded to the full House for their consideration.
House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting member of Congress, strenuously objected to the bill and the denial of her request to testify, as a courtesy, during a subcommittee hearing on the bill.
Rep. Hank Johnson, Georgia Democrat, read a statement from Mrs. Norton into the record on Wednesday. He said he objects to the substance of Mr. Franks’ bill, but it “makes it more egregious” when D.C. residents are singled out.
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.
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.
The committee rejected an amendment that would provide an exception for pregnant women with cancer who fear their treatments would harm the fetus.
“There is another person involved here,” Mr. Franks said at one point in the hearing. “It’s a little baby, who cannot defend themselves.”
Two congressman with oversight of D.C. affairs — Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, and Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican — are members of the committee but were not present for the vote.