By James Wright of the Washington Informer
A bill that would ban abortions in the District after 20 weeks has residents and leaders steaming as the U.S. Congress has again taken it upon itself to impose its will upon city residents.
Last Wednesday the House Judiciary Committee passed an anti-abortion bill, the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.). All Republicans voted for the legislation and all 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. 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 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 the legislation is illegal because it violates Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Norton, 75, said the 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.
Martrice Green, of Northeast, said that she’s incensed about Franks’ bill and thinks that it goes too far in terms of the District.
“His bill is unfair,” said Green, 62. “He doesn’t have the right to tell a woman what to do with her body. He’s not a woman.”
However, Green is not surprised by Franks’ legislation.
“Of course, this is taxation without representation,” she said. “There seems to be a mentality on Capitol Hill that we don’t know what we are doing in the District and they think that they know what’s best for us.”
Sandy Adams, of Northeast, echoes what Jenkins said about Franks needing to focus on his district.
“I don’t tell people in Arizona what they need to do and Arizona needs a lot of help,” said Adams, 44. “The other members of Congress need to stay out of our business.”
Norton expects for the Franks’ bill to go to the House floor, where it should pass because it has 215 co-sponsors. She doesn’t think that the Democratic-controlled Senate will take up the bill, noting that a companion measure only has 30 co-sponsors and that’s far from the 51 votes needed to go to President Obama for his signature which would make it a law.
In the eyes of Joyce Robinson-Paul of Southeast, abortion remains a secondary issue. The real issue is self-governance for the District. She said that she’s fed up with “Congress interfering with the city.”
“This is modern day slavery and I can’t take it anymore,” said Robinson-Paul, 63.