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House Judiciary Committee stalls on D.C. 20-week abortion ban

By Kay Steiger
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 16:36 EDT
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Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) via  Gage Skidmore / Flickr
 
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The House Judiciary Committee originally planned a Tuesday vote on its bill that seeks to ban abortion in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks. But the committee never took up the bill — sponsored by a powerful subcommittee chairman — during the session, and told Raw Story that it plans to consider the leg during the scheduled session, and a call to the committee revealed that the bill will be taken up “sometime in the near future.”

The bill, known as H.R. 3803, also called the “District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” was introduced by Arizona Rep. Trent Franks (R) and isn’t expected to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate or be approved by President Barack Obama, even if it does make it through the committee.

But National Women’s Law Center President Judith Waxman thinks that’s not necessarily the point. She said that the bill has several constitutional problems, but she believes that Franks has bigger anti-choice ambitions that extend beyond women in D.C.

“This is a wedge where they can target the District of Columbia as a scapegoat to get a case going up to the Supreme Court,” she told Raw Story. In a sense, the bill is a rebuke to two different liberal causes: the Republicans’ long-term campaign to restrict women’s reproductive rights around the country; and the more local efforts to grant legal and political autonomy to the people of the District of Columbia.

When the bill was initially proposed, D.C.’s non-voting delegate, Rep. Elanor Holmes Norton was blocked from testifying in violation of a longstanding congressional tradition that representatives speak on issues affecting their districts. “In terms of the war on women, it’s just another way that women have been silenced,” said NWLC’s Director of Federal Reproductive Health Policy Sharon Levine. “Really in the war on women, that’s how they see women’s voices on this issue.”

Val Vilott, president of the board of the D.C. Abortion Fund, told Raw Story that Congress was abusing its power over women in the District on this piece of legislation. “It’s just that they have this tool in their arsenal and they use it with abandon because they think they can get away with it. That to me is the most egregious part of it,” Villot said. “They’re making these pieces of legislation that affect a target demographic that they couldn’t be further from.”

“I think that unfortunately we’ve seen several attempts like this in the most recent Congress,” Vilott said. “That’s coming from a very loud anti-choice faction that exists in the House of Representatives. They wouldn’t dare do this for any other district in the rest of the country.”

She pointed out that she thought the bill, though it’s unlikely to ever be passed, served as a way for the anti-choice right to try out new strategies. “They use these things as a testing ground. They use these things to develop new tactics and strategies. So they can see what works and what doesn’t,” Vilott said.

Ultimately, the bill shows that D.C. will continue to struggle to control its own destiny whenever Congress sees fit to meddle in its affairs. DC Vote, a group that aims to improve D.C.’s representation in Congress, staged a protest at Rep. Franks’ office when the bill was first introduced in May. James Jones, DC Vote’s communications director, told Raw Story, “Our issue with Mr. Franks is his desire to impose his personal agenda on the District of Columbia. We think this is a violation of basic democratic principles. It’s not supported by the majority of people in D.C. most likely. He’s imposing it just because he can.”

Whether the bill will actually taken up by the House Judiciary Committee, however, would seem to determine if Franks actually can.

Kay Steiger
Kay Steiger
Kay Steiger is the managing editor of Raw Story. Her contributions have appeared in The American Prospect, The Atlantic, Campus Progress, The Guardian, In These Times, Jezebel, Religion Dispatches, RH Reality Check, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @kaysteiger.
 
 
 
 
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