House Subcommittee Holds Hearing on D.C. Abortion Ban, Bars Del. Norton From Testifying

May 18, 2012 — The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution on Thursday heard testimony on a bill (HR 3803) that would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy in Washington, D.C., except to save the woman from death or "irreversible physical impairment," the Washington Times reports. The bill, which has 193 co-sponsors, does not include an exception for cases of rape, incest or fetal anomalies (Howell, Washington Times, 5/17).

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) introduced the bill in January. It is modeled after legislation from the National Right to Life Committee and is based on the much-disputed claim that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks. Six states have enacted similar laws, and NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson said passing the D.C. bill is the group's "top congressional priority for 2012" (Sheppard, Mother Jones, 5/18).

Thursday's Hearing

At the hearing, Republican subcommittee members called on three doctors to testify in support of Franks' contention that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks. Franks called abortion care after that point "inhumane" and "the greatest human rights atrocity in the United States today."

Democrats and district officials criticized Republicans for rejecting Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton's (D-D.C.) request to testify (Pershing, Washington Post, 5/17). Franks countered that it is typical for the minority party to be allowed one witness and the majority party to invite three.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the subcommittee, said it has been customary for decades to allow lawmakers to testify without taking up a witness slot. "It is unconscionable that she is not able to testify," he said (Bassett, Huffington Post, 5/18).

In lieu of Norton, Democrats chose D.C. resident Christy Zink to testify about obtaining an abortion at 21 weeks after tests showed the fetus had life-threatening brain abnormalities. The bill's "very premise -- that it prevents pain -- is a lie," Zink said, adding that if she had given birth, the child "would have experienced near-constant pain. If he had survived the pregnancy, which was not certain, he might have never left the hospital" (AP/Washington Post, 5/17).

At a press conference, Norton called the bill "a war on women in the District of Columbia." Her office also released the testimony she would have delivered at the hearing. "Republicans do not dare take on the women of this country who have voting members of the House and Senate with a post-20-week ban on abortions," it stated (Washington Times, 5/17).