According to the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance, elective abortions are relatively a minor expense in the agency’s billion dollar-plus budget. Per District figures, only $65,000 have been spent on these procedures since D.C. begin funding elective abortions from its own local finances. However, when Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, the District’s funding of abortions became a prized target for conservatives looking to score points with their tea-party supporters who swept them into power.
In April, Republicans made the District’s abortion funding a negotiating point in the debate over a federal spending package for FY 2011. To avert a government shutdown, the president himself is quoted to have told Republicans that “I will give you D.C. abortion,” thus barring the District from funding abortions for the rest of 2011. News of this compromise sparked outrage amongst D.C. rights activists and politicians, leading to the arrest of the Mayor and other District rights supporters, 72 in all.
Following the national attention generated by the arrests of the Mayor and others, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the House panel charged with overseeing the District’s affairs, proposed the budget autonomy deal to make the abortion ban permanent. The bill would have saved anti-abortion forces from having to renew the ban annually.
The Civics Lesson
Someone new to the District might be confused why the federal government is responsible for local public health priorities such as abortion services.
The issue boils down to statehood, or the lack thereof says Anise Jenkins, president of Stand Up! for Democracy in D.C. “So long as D.C. is denied full statehood, we will continue to be faced with games that offer to give us one right and take another away” says Jenkins. As one of the 72 D.C. rights activists arrested earlier this year, and the only activist cleared of all charges stemming from their acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, Jenkins believes that going forward, leaders in D.C. must not settle for anything short of full statehood. And Jenkins points out that the blueprint for winning statehood is available for all to read in the reserves of the Martin Luther King Branch of the D.C. Library. This blueprint spells out a simple formula of “education, citizen participation and direct action, litigation, and legislation,” says Jenkins.
American University Law School constitutional law professor Jamin Raskin concurs and notes that the struggle for District rights is as old as the U.S. Constitution itself. Raskin notes out that the constitution’s “District Clause” gives Congress the exclusive power to legislate “in all Cases, whatsoever, over” the District, as “the Seat of the Government of the United States.” Why this draconian limitation on rights in the capital of democracy? Apparently, the founding fathers intended to ensure that federal government would not be unduly influenced by the state in which the federal seat of government was located.
In the aftermath of the failed bid for partial democracy, Raskin suggests that supporters of D.C. rights must turn their attention to winning full equality for the District, through statehood. Raskin advises that the District can become a state without a constitutional amendment, by “an act of Congress, by redrawing [the District’s] boundary lines,” requiring only “a majority vote in both houses [of Congress] and presidential signature,” says Professor Raskin.
Anita Bonds, Chairwoman for the District’s Democratic Party, believes “the conditions are ripe to once again push for full statehood, as the nation prepares for the 2012 elections.” Given the political change around the world that sparked this country’s Occupy movement, Bonds is optimistic that the American public will support a bid to end the political discrimination suffered by residents of the nation’s capitol. wi