District Residents Outraged over Anti-Abortion Bill

James Wright | 7/25/2012, 11:44 a.m.

A bill that would ban abortions in the District after 20 weeks has residents and leaders steaming that the U.S. Congress has once again taken upon itself to impose its will upon city residents.

Last Wednesday, July 18, the House Judiciary Committee passed an anti-abortion bill, the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, 18-14 sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), with all Republicans voting for it and Democrats voting against it. Anise Jenkins, the executive director for Stand Up! for Democracy in DC, a non-profit group that promotes D.C. statehood, attended the vote - known as a mark-up - and she's livid about the outcome.

"It is D.C. residents, not Congress who need to use their oversight powers to monitor the undemocratic actions of those congressional members who target D.C.'s local laws," Jenkins said. "We resent being used as a tool by Rep. Franks and other conservatives to overturn Roe vs. Wade or any national legislation. We hope Rep. Franks is not neglecting the needs of his own constituents while he spends considerable time and energy interfering with us."

The bill doesn't have the support of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who has stated that she believes that the legislation is illegal because it's in violation of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Norton, 75, said that the D.C. bill is the latest attempt by anti-abortion activists to invalidate the controversial court decision.

"With anti-choice Republicans in control of the committee, the final vote was never in doubt," she said. "However, Republicans' ganging up on the District, instead of introducing a nationwide bill, was quickly seen for what it is: the use of the women of this city to target Roe vs. Wade and the women whose reproductive health depends on the constitutionally guaranteed right to an abortion."

The bill states that the only exception to an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy is if the life of the mother is in imminent danger. The legislation imposes criminal penalties, including a fine or up to two years imprisonment or both for the person who performs the abortion.

The bill would also create a cause of action against an individual performing an abortion for the woman, the birth father and the woman's parents if she is an un-emancipated minor. The bill is based on the premise, hotly debated in scientific and medical circles, that the fetus feels pain after 20 weeks.

Norton attempted to testify against the bill at a subcommittee hearing on May 17 but was denied the opportunity, an action unprecedented on Capitol Hill. It's customary for a representative to address legislation that affects their district.

Franks, who represents northwestern Arizona and a large portion of the western suburbs of Phoenix, was criticized by Ilir Zherka, the executive director for DC Vote, a non-profit in Northwest that supports the District having a full member of the U.S. Congress.

"Franks should be ashamed of himself for trying to impose his personal political agenda upon a group of Americans [who] have no vote in the Congress," Zherka said. "The Judiciary Committee vote in favor of this bill violates fundamental principles of democracy. Ultimately, we believe Franks' efforts will fail." Norton is also fighting language in the House version of the budget bill that would prohibit the District from using its own money to pay for abortions for low-income residents.