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Public Statements

Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee - Markup of H.R. 3803


Location: Washington, DC

The Office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today released a statement that Norton has asked to be included in the record during the House Judiciary Committee markup of H.R. 3803, a bill that seeks to ban all abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks of pregnancy, scheduled for Wednesday, July 18, 2012, at 2:00 p.m. in 2141 Rayburn House Office Building. The bill does not include any exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the mother, and provides for imprisonment of up to two years and a fine for health providers who perform abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. "Women across the nation have pulled away the D.C. disguise and now see this post-20-week abortion ban for what it is: using the women of the District of Columbia, in an abuse Congressional authority, to set a phony federal precedent as they go for the prize: a state-by-state attack on abortion rights, guaranteed to women nationwide for 39 years," Norton said. "The far-right Republicans pushing this bill lack the courage to introduce a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy nationwide, so, like schoolyard bullies, they are ganging up on D.C., but it turns out, marking up this bill serves our purpose as well, as it alerts across the country that the right to reproductive choice continues to be at risk, beginning with attacks on insurance coverage for contraceptives and the attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. The bill is a direct attack on Roe v. Wade and further energizes pro-choice women. Our coalition of more than 100 organizations has blown the whistle on this bill from coast to coast."

Norton requested to testify against H.R. 3803 on behalf of her constituents, who alone would be affected by the bill, at the Subcommittee on the Constitution hearing in May, citing the long-standing, bipartisan tradition of allowing members to testify on bills affecting their constituents, along with the usual invited witnesses. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), author of the bill and chairman of the subcommittee, denied her request.

The text of the Congresswoman's statement follows.

Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

House Committee on the Judiciary Markup

H.R. 3803, District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

July 17, 2012

I submit this statement opposing H.R. 3803 on behalf of the residents of the District of Columbia, who have no vote in this committee or on the House floor. I ask that it be included in the record of today's markup, particularly considering the denial of my request, as a congressional courtesy, to testify at the hearing about H.R. 3803, which would apply only to my constituents, including women who live in the District, as well as physicians and other healthcare professionals and hospitals in the District, but to no other Americans or jurisdictions.

Some are debating whether House Republicans have been engaging in a "war on women" in our country. What is not debatable is the fixation of the Republican majority on depriving the women of the District of the reproductive rights that all other Americans enjoy. This bill, however, is another abuse of power and denial of democratic rights. The committee, acting at the insistence of special interest organizations, is using District women to abet a national campaign to defy Roe v. Wade, the law of the land. Instead of introducing a nationwide post-20-week abortion ban, the campaign has taken the bill to conservative states and to Congress, but only for District women. They do not dare introduce a nationwide bill because the denial of post-20-week abortions is opposed by most Americans, who have long supported the Roe v. Wade guarantee of the constitutional right to abortion until viability as determined by a physician.

District women are the chosen vehicle, but the targets of the national campaign are women of the nation. If this bill is passed in the House, it will be used to show a federal imprimatur, however bogus or limited, for the purpose of encouraging other jurisdictions to defy Roe v. Wade. Thus, H.R. 3803 goes beyond the tactics these same forces used to bring the federal government (and with it, the District government) to within an hour of shutting down in April 2011, which was avoided only after they succeeded in re-imposing an undemocratic rider on a spending bill to prohibit the District from spending its own local funds on abortions for low-income women. That D.C. abortion rider remains in place today, and the House, but not the Senate, has passed a bill (H.R. 3) that would make the rider permanent. But today's bill moves from interfering with the decisions of low-income women in the District, to attacking every woman in the District in a national campaign to nullify the abortion rights of women throughout the United States, state by state.

H.R. 3803 is unprincipled twice over. 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. It is also the first bill ever introduced in Congress that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Its application to District women is a cover for its underlying purpose: to undermine Roe v. Wade in other jurisdictions in the United States.

Republicans claim that the bill does not usurp local authority because Congress has jurisdiction over the District. However, that argument has been unavailing for 39 years, since Congress gave up its power over the District, except for a small number of enumerated exceptions, with passage of the Home Rule Act of 1973. The right to reproductive choice was not among those exceptions. Each and every act of Congress beyond these stated exceptions is an abuse of power and invades the authority Congress explicitly gave to the District in recognition of the right of every local government in our country to govern itself, a central tenet in the founding of the nation.

The supporters of H.R. 3803 surely know that it is unconstitutional because it violates the reproductive rights spelled out in Roe v. Wade, as well as the 14th Amendment right to equal treatment under the law by intentionally discriminating against women who live in the nation's capital. Their hope is to get state laws defying Roe v. Wade until a lawsuit winds its way through the courts. In that way, even if Roe is affirmed, as it has been many times, anti-choice forces will have cynically succeeded in making it impossible for women to exercise their right to reproductive choice for a period of time and in some states.

Why, then, a markup today on a bill that violates the right to reproductive freedom, equal protection, and federalism all at once? The answers are inescapable. 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. Instead, the majority has chosen a cheap and cynical way to make an ideological point during an election year. With last year's civil disobedience, however, D.C. residents and officials showed that we will never accept second-class treatment of our city and, most especially, of our women. Today, the committee invites the outrage of women far beyond the borders of the District, where the bill seeks its ultimate targets.

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