Morning Read: D.C. and the Abortion Bill

District Divide

A bill that would ban abortions in D.C. after 20 weeks of pregnancy received a majority of votes in the House, but still failed to get enough votes to pass.

The largely liberal D.C. leadership had been outspoken against the fetal pain bil on the grounds that it violates women’s rights and the rights of the District. Arizona Rep. Trent Franks introduced it and, in a controversial move, refused to let D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton testify at a May hearing for the bill.

The bill likely would not have been taken up for vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate, but it still carries significance for the District as its leaders fight for greater autonomy.

Despite Mayor Vincent Gray and Norton, who is a non-voting member of Congress, being pro-choice, the bill would have been strict, criminalizing abortion after 20 weeks even in cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormalities. It contained an exception if the mother’s life was in jeopardy. The D.C. Council removed all criminal abortion laws from city law in 2004 — a reason why many supporters say this bill targeted the District.

Prior to the vote Gray issued this statement:

I want to thank these clergy representatives for their public opposition to a bill that represents not only a gross violation of District women’s right to autonomy over their own bodies, but also a gross violation of our entire city’s autonomy over our own affairs,” Mayor Gray said. “Sadly, despite recent positive signs that some congressional leaders are willing to work with us to find ways to respect democracy for the residents of the nation’s capital, some members still want to use us as guinea pigs for their pet social causes.”

Norton released this statement:

The national implications of the D.C. abortion ban bill have been clear to the pro-choice community and women’s groups from day one,” Norton said. “The bill picked on the District, seen as an easy mark in a Republican House, to thwart a wholesale reaction from the nation’s women.

But the results of the vote weren’t all good news for the District. Because the vote was considered under special rules, it required a two-thirds majority for passage. The ultimate 220-154 vote cleared a majority, a sign that many pro-life activists say shows that the bill will eventually succeed.


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