Norton Testimony Denied at D.C. Abortion Hearing

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) responded Thursday to a question about Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) not being able to testify at a hearing about restrictions on abortions in D.C., saying that "it's wrong."

Norton asked to testify in front of a hearing of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution which is considering legislation that would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy in the District.

The Subcommittee, which is chaired by notoriously anti-abortion Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), denied her request to testify at the 4 p.m. hearing. Norton said she will offer written testimony instead.

"We have a member of Congress who wants to come in and talk about her district, I can't even imagine a situation where someone else would be denied that opportunity and I think it's wrong," Pelosi said. "And I think it's not civil and if we don't raise the level of civility around here it just further alienates the public."

Pelosi continued:

"What are they afraid of? The facts? The impact on the District of Columbia? The persuasiveness of the Congresswoman to represent her people? ... They have prevented her from having a vote on the floor, now they don't want her to have a voice in a committee on a subject of concern to her district, I think it's wrong."

Norton said she will hold a 2:30 p.m. press conference, where she will be joined by Professor Christy Zink, a District resident who had an abortion at 21 weeks after doctors found severe brain abnormalities in the fetus; Mayor Vincent Gray; Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution; and National Abortion Federation President Vicki Saporta.

Norton provided the written testimony she will present below:

What matters in the submission of this testimony is what H.R. 3803 and this subcommittee are attempting to do to the citizens I represent, and, therefore, I submit this testimony as part of my responsibility to them, and ask that it be included in the record of today’s hearing. However, my constituents would also count on me to note for the record the subcommittee’s callous disregard of long-standing congressional courtesy in denying my request to testify, in addition to the invited witnesses, particularly considering that the subject matter under consideration affects only my district. Unlike every member of this subcommittee, I am elected by, and am accountable to, the residents of the District of Columbia.

This is the second time in the 112th Congress that the majority has focused exclusively on my district while denying my request to testify. How very easy it is for the majority to gang up on the District of Columbia after supporting the continuing denial of its tax-paying citizens to representation in the House and Senate. How irresistible it has been to pick on the District of Columbia and its citizens with not one but two bills that the majority dares not try to apply to all citizens of the United States. The lack of courage of the majority’s convictions is breathtaking. Common courtesy and the congressional tradition of comity and respect demand that the Member elected to speak for the only Americans affected by a bill be allowed to speak for them, regardless of other witnesses who may speak to the underlying issue. Last year, I was denied to speak on H.R. 3, a bill that would permanently prohibit only one jurisdiction, the District of Columbia, from spending its local funds on abortions for low-income women. Today it is H.R. 3803, which would bar the women of only one district, the District of Columbia, from having abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Fortunately, the majority has not yet found a way to completely silence our residents. I thank the minority for inviting Professor Christy Zink, who has agreed to speak for us, as few others could, as a mother whose tragic experience compelled an abortion after 20 weeks into her pregnancy.

Some are debating whether Republicans have been engaging in a “war on women” in our country. What is not debatable is the Republican fixation on the women of the District of Columbia. The Republican majority, which was elected on a promise of jobs and devolving power to state and local governments, brought the federal government (and with it, the District of Columbia government) to within an hour of shutting down in April 2011, and relented only after it succeeded in re-imposing an undemocratic rider on a spending bill that prohibits the District of Columbia from spending its own local funds on abortions for low-income women. Although the abortion rider remains in place today, it has not satisfied the apparently insatiable hunger of Republicans to expand the reach of the federal government into local affairs. Today, they are moving from interfering with the decisions of low-income women in the District of Columbia, to attacking every woman in the District of Columbia.

H.R. 3803 is unprincipled twice over. It is the first bill ever introduced in Congress that would deny constitutional rights to the citizens of only one jurisdiction in the United States, and it is the first bill ever introduced in Congress that would ban abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy. Republicans claim that the bill does not usurp local authority because Congress has jurisdiction over the District of Columbia. However, that argument has been unavailing for 39 years, since Congress gave up that power over the District of Columbia, except for a small number of enumerated exceptions, with passage of the Home Rule Act of 1973. The right to reproductive choice was not among those exceptions.

The supporters of H.R. 3803 surely know that it is unconstitutional on two counts. The bill violates the reproductive rights spelled out in Roe v. Wade, as well as the 14th Amendment right to equal treatment under the law by intentionally discriminating against women who live in the nation’s capital. D.C. residents are used to Members piling on, but we will never hesitate to fight back, especially when Members have the audacity to try to place our citizens outside the protections of the U.S. Constitution, as H.R. 3803 does. As the Supreme Court said in Callan v. Wilson, “There is nothing in the history of the Constitution or of the original amendments to justify the assertion that the people of th[e] District [of Columbia] may be lawfully deprived of the benefit of any of the constitutional guarantees of life, liberty, and property.”

Why, then, a hearing today on a bill that violates the right to reproductive freedom, equal protection, and federalism all at once? The answers are inescapable. Republicans do not dare take on the women of this country who have voting Members of the House and Senate with a post-20-week ban on abortions. Instead, the majority has chosen a cheap and cynical way to make its ideological point during an election year. With last year’s civil disobedience, D.C. residents and officials showed that we will never accept second-class treatment of our city. Today we want this subcommittee to know that we will never accept second-class treatment of our citizens, either.

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