News & Politics

Congressional Republicans Renew Efforts to Restrict Abortion in DC

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton was not allowed to testify in person, going against the usual procedure.

It took Congress all of four days back from its holiday break to start messing around with the District’s internal affairs, as Representative Trent Franks held a hearing Thursday morning on a bill that would further already in-place restrictions on DC women who seek abortions while prohibiting the District’s lone member of Congress from speaking up on the matter.

Franks, an Arizona Republican, led a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on his “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” a bill that would prohibit states from using federal grants to pay for abortion services sought by low-income pregnant women. But DC was dragged into it because Franks’s bill considers the city’s coffers to be federal money, thanks to the requirement that the District’s budget be approved by Congress. 

DC lost the ability to use its tax revenue to pay for abortions under an amendment House Republicans attached to a 2011 federal budget deal; Franks’s bill would make the ban permanent.

Franks’s all-male panel also denied Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton from testifying, even though it is a congressional courtesy to allow members to speak on legislation targeting their districts. Norton, joined by DC Mayor Vince Gray, held a press conference before the hearing to protest being shut out.

“We are one jurisdiction up against a House which we do not control,” Norton said. Gray added that if Franks is so interested in meddling with the District’s affairs, he should move his residence here and run for local office, although he doubted Franks could actually get elected.

Once the hearing began, Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, argued with Franks for several minutes about adding Norton to the witness list, calling her exclusing an insult. Franks refused several times, but eventually allowed Norton, who was seated in the audience, to submit written testimony.

The witnesses who were allowed to speak were Helen M. Alvare, a George Mason University law professor, and Richard M. Doerflinger, an official with the US Conference of Bishops, both of whom praised Franks’s bill; and Susan Franklin Wood, a George Washington University professor who opposed it.

“This bill goes many steps too far outside the realm of our democracy,” Norton wrote in her statement. “Not only would this bill harm the women of the United States, it would make matters even worse for the women of the District of Columbia by also eliminating part of the local government’s authority to regulate its own affairs and spend its own funds.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.