July 19, 2012 — The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted 18-14 along party lines to approve a bill (HR 3803) that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the District of Columbia, CQ Today reports. Although the bill likely will reach the House floor, its chances of being taken up by the Senate or being signed into law by President Obama are slim (Anderson/Dumain, CQ Today, 7/18).
The District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was introduced by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) in January. The legislation, similar to that which has been enacted in several states, is based on the disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain at that point in pregnancy.
Although the ban would not apply in cases where abortion is necessary to save the woman from death or "irreversible physical impairment," it would stand for cases of rape, incest or fetal anomaly (Howell, Washington Times, 7/18). Democrats tried and failed to amend the bill to allow exceptions in the event of severe but not fatal health risks to the mother, as well as for pregnant women who need cancer treatment.
The National Right to Life Committee said the bill is its top legislative priority this year and pledged to take note of which members sign on as co-sponsors. D.C. law permits abortion up until birth, the group said, adding in a written statement earlier this week that a commissioned poll found that 58% of U.S. residents favor the D.C. abortion ban.
NARAL Pro-Choice America and the National Abortion Federation sent out action alerts to abortion-rights supporters across the country to rally against the proposal (CQ Today, 7/18).
Democrats and D.C. officials say the bill unreasonably singles out D.C. residents and that decisions on abortion in the District should be left to lawmakers elected by voters under home-rule provisions (Washington Times, 7/18). They also noted that Franks, who has recently come under fire for his involvement in the District's affairs, did not explain why the bill was targeted at D.C.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said after the vote, "We are not puppets to be used by the right-to-life forces, who are parading this same bill through the states to work up a head of steam against Roe v. Wade." In a statement introduced into the record at the hearing she added, "As to the District, it is the first bill ever introduced in Congress that would deny constitutional rights to the citizens of only one jurisdiction in our country" (Pershing, Washington Post, 7/18).