D.C. Officials Reject Budget Autonomy Bill Over Abortion Provision

November 17, 2011 — Washington, D.C., officials on Wednesday came out in opposition to draft legislation that would grant the district budget autonomy in exchange for a permanent ban on using its own money to pay for abortion services for low-income women, Roll Call reports (Dumain, Roll Call, 11/17).

Currently, Congress must approve the district's budget. The draft bill from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, proposed allowing the city to begin spending its own funds after the D.C. Council and mayor gave their approval, without having to wait for Congress to approve the budget (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/16).

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Del. Eleanor Norton (D-D.C.) and D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown issued a joint statement saying that though they "appreciate" the autonomy proposal, they "regret" that they "would have to strongly oppose it if it were introduced." They added, "We recognize that the abortion provision is what Chairman Issa believed would be necessary to get the bill passed in the House. But the views of others should not prevail over the views of our own residents."

According to the Washington Post's "D.C. Wire," Issa likely will not proceed with the bill without the consent of city officials (Pershing, "D.C. Wire," Washington Post, 11/16). Issa spokesperson Frederick Hill said that he "will continue to work with [D.C. officials] on this and other issues affecting our nation's capital" but that "the next steps have yet to be determined" (Roll Call, 11/17).

D.C. officials said agreeing to the abortion language could have encouraged future amendments that would restrict social policy in the city. However, they hope the proposal "will serve as a model for how Congress can work collaboratively with the city," they said (Nuckols, AP/Washington Post, 11/16).

The Gray administration in recent days considered if it could privately raise funds to cover abortion services under the proposal. Gray said the decision ultimately was about principle. "It's about what the city should be able to do, just like everyone else," he said, adding, "I think we know a poison pill when we taste it" (Howell, Washington Times, 11/16).