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For the past several months, a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks in the District of Columbia has been a centerpiece of the rhetoric of anti-abortion forces, abortion-rights proponents and D.C. autonomy activists.
The talk turns into action Tuesday, when the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider the measure.
“We will continue to press this issue … building towards ultimate enactment,” National Right to Life Committee Legislative Director Douglas Johnson said.
“We will counter them every step of the way,” NARAL Pro-Choice America spokesman Ted Miller said.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) also weighed in.
“They could have made this a national bill,” she said of bill supporters, “but instead they do what schoolyard bullies do: gang up on the District with a bill that the District has no vote on, using the city essentially for propaganda purposes as they try to march from state to state to pass laws that violate Roe v. Wade.”
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), is based on the argument by some medical experts that 20 weeks is the threshold after which a fetus can begin to feel pain. The measure would make it illegal for doctors in D.C. to perform the procedure after that point except in cases where the woman’s life is in danger.
The bill has virtually no chance of becoming law in the 112th Congress, with the Senate in Democratic hands and an abortions-rights-supporting president in the White House.
But Franks’ bill has proceeded swiftly through the GOP-run House. It was introduced in January and was the subject of a May hearing before the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, which Franks chairs.
That the National Right to Life Committee has made the bill its top legislative priority for this Congress might have something to do with the alacrity with which it has moved.
The influential organization has pledged to score any House floor vote on the measure and, with it being an election year, has also suggested it will be paying close attention to who signs on as a co-sponsor.
“You will see on our website, featured very prominently on our home page, a link to a graphic listing all the co-sponsors,” Johnson said. “We don’t do this for every bill.”
As of Friday the bill had 209 co-sponsors, including seven Democrats.
Supporters of the measure are also seizing on momentum at the state level — Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Georgia and Alabama have enacted similar laws. Because of Congress’ unique power over the District, many argue that it’s appropriate to target D.C. as another local jurisdiction where post-20-week abortions can be abolished.
Abortion-rights groups are mobilizing their own offensive, calling Franks’ bill an “assault” on women in the District of Columbia that extends to women everywhere.
NARAL Pro-Choice America and the National Abortion Federation have sent out action alerts to supporters nationally, and Democrats who don’t have a direct stake in D.C. affairs — including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and women of the Congressional Black Caucus — have also spoken out against Franks’ bill.
Norton said she expects these allies will continue to make noise in advance of Tuesday’s markup.
“This markup was fully expected, and we are fully prepared,” she said Friday. “If Republicans want to make abortion the big issue, we’re ready for them.”