Republicans block Rep. Norton from testifying on anti-abortion bill for her own district

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, May 16, 2012 16:57 EDT
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Update (below): Republicans stack witness panel with anti-abortion doctors

The House Subcommittee on the Constitution will stage a hearing on Thursday for a bill that would ban all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the District of Colombia. And much like the last major Republican hearing on female reproductive rights, women are being shut out — or at least, one woman: the district’s female congressional representative.

While committee chair Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), author of the bill being discussed, has not yet revealed who will be testifying, he has revealed who won’t be. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), the sole federal representative of Washington, D.C. in Congress, said this week that she sent a letter to Franks asking to testify on behalf of her constituents, but her request was denied.

“I think this is, unfortunately, what we’ve kind of come to expect from the anti-choice contingent in the House of Representatives,” Val Vilott, board president of the advocacy group D.C. Abortion Fund, told Raw Story on Wednesday. “I think that this proves unequivocally that they’re more interested in their own anti-choice, anti-woman political agenda than they are in the well-being of residents in the District of Colombia or women.”

In a prepared statement, Norton explained that she was not surprised by Franks’ behavior, given that her request to testify on an earlier anti-abortion bill was also declined.

“Both bills have in common attempts to codify the far right ideology of Members of Congress and impose them with no accountability to the affected residents,” she said, according to an advisory. “The post-20-week D.C. abortion ban bill targets an entire group of individuals, women who live in the District of Columbia, and their constitutional rights.”

Norton added: “Using the women of one congressional district to reach for extreme encroachments on women’s reproductive rights has become a pattern of the House Republican majority, but also reflected nationwide.”

Requests for more information about Thursday’s hearing did not receive a response from the House committee’s staff. A member of Franks’ staff told Raw Story they would respond with more information on the congressman’s decision to exclude Norton, but had not done so at time of this story’s publication.

While federal funding for abortions is banned by law, individual states can decide whether their own tax dollars go to support women’s reproductive health. DC has been doing so since Obama signed an executive order allowed them to in January of 2010. However, the District of Colombia is unique in that is not a state and falls under the jurisdiction of Congress. Congress can — and does — intervene in D.C.’s affairs when it sees fit. The bill Franks is an example of Congress interfering with the District’s “home rule” status.

Norton said she plans to hold a press conference on Thursday afternoon ahead of the hearing, where she will be joined by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Christy Zink, a George Washington University professor. Zink was included in the press conference because she had an abortion after 20 weeks due to a fetal malformation, an advisory said.

“I think that they’re denying Representative Norton from even testifying proves that they have absolutely no respect for the autonomy of the District of Colombia, and that’s not something they’re even keeping in mind as they move forward on this bill,” Vilott concluded. “It has everything to do with an agenda and nothing to do with autonomy or respect for either the district or women.”

Rep. Norton’s communications director was not available for comment.

Update: Republicans stack witness panel with anti-abortion doctors

Following criticism by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Franks stacked his witness list with doctors who’ve opined against abortion, permitting just one witness to speak against his bill. That witness is Christy Zink, who appeared with Norton in a press conference Thursday afternoon to describe her experience having an abortion after 20 weeks due to fetal malformation.

Others testifying, according to Washington City Paper reporter Shani Hilton, include the doctors Anthony Levatino, Colleen Malloy and Bryan Calhoun, none of whom practice within the District of Colombia. Each individual has published anti-abortion sentiments in the past and are expected to speak in favor of the banning abortions beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy.


Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved. 

Updated from an original version with additional source quotes.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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