WASHINGTON - JANUARY 22: A pro-life activist holds a sign in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as he participates in the annual "March for Life" event January 22, 2009 in Washington, DC. The event was to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court abortion ruling. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
If the states are the “laboratories of democracy,” as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis put it, our non-state of D.C. is democracy’s chemistry set, where mischievous members of Congress stir things up to see what will go boom. And the new Republican majority in the House is already mixing away.
H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, would “prohibit taxpayer funded abortions.” It’s the sort of thing one would expect from its sponsor, longtime anti-abortion Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, and its 161 mostly Republican co-sponsors. But it also contains a strike against D.C. self-governance.
The bill includes “including any amounts within the budget of the District of Columbia that have been approved by Act of Congress” as federal dollars that cannot be used to fund the termination of pregnancies. Because local D.C. expenditures are subject to congressional approval, that means residents’ District taxes -- not just their federal ones -- would be subject to the prohibition. The National Abortion Rights Action League says the measure would ban the District from using “its own local funds for abortion for low-income women.”
But the issue at hand is not whether or not abortion is morally objectionable. Abortion is, after all, legal in the United States, and the District government opted through democratic means to subsidize the legal procedure for low-income individuals. Whether abortion should be legal or not is an ongoing debate.
The issue here, as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton put it, is that “the new Republican majority has spent its first three weeks preaching about the need to reduce the federal government’s power. Yet the third bill they introduced this Congress prohibits a local jurisdiction from spending its own local funds.”
Republicans, and particularly the new Tea Party contingent on Capitol Hill, are supposed to be all about decentralization of power and federalism. During last year’s campaigns, they spoke openly of returning state governments to a position of primacy. But now, they are using their power to stomp on a local jurisdiction’s right to govern itself.
What happened to “Don’t Tread on Me”?
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC