The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill today that would ban abortions after 20 weeks in the District of Columbia.
The party-line vote of 18-14 came as no surprise: The National Right to Life Committee calls the bill its No. 1 legislative priority for passage in the 112th Congress, and the Republican majority by and large holds anti-abortion positions.
What was surprising, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said, was that Republicans seemed almost reluctant to speak about why the bill was D.C.-specific.
“I thought it was interesting that the sponsor of the bill attempted, for the most part, to play down the D.C. linkage,” Norton said after the markup to a gathering of reporters. “I think it has a lot to do with the way we hammered him for picking out one jurisdiction, for bullying D.C., for not having the guts to move forth with a bill for the nation.”
Norton was referring to Rep. Trent Franks, the Arizona Republican who has championed the legislation.
Though in the past he has spoken at length about Congress’ unique jurisdiction and even constitutional authority to manage D.C. affairs, he was more vague at today’s markup when questioned by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) to explain why the bill targeted only the District.
“That’s a fair question,” Franks told Johnson, who earlier in the markup had read a statement on Norton’s behalf since she does not sit on the panel. “As you know, D.C. government completely repealed its entire law of abortion, and it is legal in D.C. to abort a child in late term.”
That D.C. allows abortions to occur until the moment of birth is also an argument for passing the Franks bill, according to the NRLC, which announced in a statement earlier this week that a commissioned poll found 58 percent in favor of the D.C. ban.
The legislation, which has been enacted in several states, is based on the premise held by some medical experts that fetuses can begin to feel pain after the 20th week of pregnancy. Doctors would be barred from performing the procedure after this threshold under threat of imprisonment or fines — unless the mother’s life was in sufficient danger.
Democrats on the committee sought, unsuccessfully, to amend the bill to allow exceptions in the event of health risks to a mother that may be severe but not fatal.
“Every pregnancy is different and every woman has to be able to make a decision that is right for herself and her family,” said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.). “We hear a lot about government overreach here ... [except] when it comes to a woman’s intimate, personal and sometimes impossibly difficult decisions.”
With the NRLC pledging to “score” the vote, the bill is likely to be scheduled for House floor consideration. It is highly unlikely, however, that the bill will be taken up in the Senate or signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Norton said she and her allies will continue to fight the bill.
“We never doubted that the bill will get nowhere in the Senate, but we would never rest on that,” she said. “We, above all, resent to our core that we were used.”