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Abortion Hearing Brings Out Jurisdictional Battle

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Reps. Trent Franks (left) and Jerrold Nadler presided over a Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution hearing on late-term abortions in Washington, D.C.

Franks said that the minority is typically allowed to invite only one witness to the majority’s three witnesses, and that Nadler had an opportunity to chose Norton to be that witness — but he didn’t.

“Any written submission will of course be made a part of the hearing record, and we welcome her contributions,” Franks said of Norton, who was sitting in one of the front rows with the other audience members attending the hearing.

He also invited Norton to join other Members at the dais, although she would not be permitted to ask questions of the witnesses as she is not a member of the Judiciary Committee. Norton declined the offer.

In her written testimony, Norton said that the bill is a direct attack on District women, as well as a step toward undermining Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that deemed the right to have an abortion constitutional.

“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,” Norton wrote.

Norton, along with Mayor Vincent Gray, had a chance to speak out against the bill to the public earlier on Thursday. They held a press conference in the Rayburn House Office Building, just a few doors down from the Judiciary Committee hearing room where the formal hearing was to take place.

Nadler joined them, saying that the behavior of his Republican colleagues was “highly obnoxious.”

Pros and Cons

Franks and his allies have in the past made the case that the nation’s capitol city should not permit abortions period, let alone ones after the 20-week threshold.

But during the hearing itself, which lasted a little more than an hour, Republican lawmakers tried to steer the conversation clear of D.C.-specific questions, focusing instead on examples of how abortion is inhumane.

Anthony Levatino, an obstetrician gynecologist who used to perform abortions until he had a change of heart, described in graphic detail the process by which a fetus in a late-term abortion is extracted from a mother’s body, at one point demonstrating with a stainless steel clamp used in the procedure.

“You know you have it right when you crush down on the clamp and you see the ... the baby’s brains. You can then extract the skull pieces. Many times, a little face may come out and stare back at you. Congratulations!” he said. “You have successfully performed a second-trimester Suction [dilation and evacuation] abortion.”

Neonatologist Colleen Malloy gave more medical evidence for pain the fetus can experience 20 weeks into the pregnancy.

And Byron Calhoun, vice chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at West Virginia University-Charleston, described an alternative to abortion for women whose children are going to be born with severe and life-threatening anomalies: many hospitals, he said, are employing a "hospice" model that helps the mother confront her baby's health condition and creates a supportive atmosphere through delivery and after, during what little time the child has left.

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