Reps. Trent Franks (left) and Jerrold Nadler presided over a Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution hearing on late-term abortions in Washington, D.C.
Congressional legislation that would place restrictions on District of Columbia laws typically captures attention and backlash from an insular crowd of local activists.
But a bill that would ban abortions in Washington, D.C., after 20 weeks of pregnancy has gained broader traction, with Democrats citing it as the latest installment in what they are calling the “Republican war on women.”
Leading up to a Thursday afternoon hearing convened by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, pro-abortion rights groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Abortion Federation sent press releases to nation-wide email lists, imploring supporters to fight against the bill.
They also expressed solidarity with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who was denied the opportunity to testify before the subcommittee despite its effect on her district.
“D.C. women are already denied a vote, and now we are being denied a voice,” said Laura Meyers, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C.
Lawmakers in both chambers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), also decried the decision to exclude Norton from testifying.
“It is mystifying to me how anyone who claims to be part of a representative body could say no to hearing testimony from the very representative elected by the people who are being targeted by this bill,” Boxer said in a statement. “Congresswoman Norton is an accomplished lawmaker, she has represented the people of Washington in Congress for 21 years and she has the right to have her voice heard on legislation with damaging health impacts for women in the District of Columbia.”
The bill, sponsored by subcommittee Chairman Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), is modeled after laws that have been enacted by six state legislatures. The ban on abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy is based on the argument by some medical experts that after this threshold, the fetus can begin to feel pain.
Franks’ bill would make it illegal for doctors to perform abortions in the District after the 20th week of pregnancy, with penalties including fines and prison terms of up to two years. The measure includes exceptions for women whose lives are in danger, but not in cases of rape or incest.
Subcommittee ranking member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) registered his displeasure with Franks at the start of Thursday’s hearing. In addition to his opposition to the bill’s restrictions on women’s abortion access, he argued that it was unprecedented for a colleague not to be given an opportunity to weigh in on a bill that affects her jurisdiction.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.