|At Press Conference, Norton Says Republican Anti-Choice Bill is an Unprecedented Attack on the Constitutional Rights of Women who Live in the District of Columbia|
WASHINGTON, DC – At a press conference today with D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and others, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) issued a statement pledging resistance against the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R.3803/S.2103), introduced by Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), which deprives the women who live in the District of Columbia of their constitutional rights to reproductive freedom. The Congresswoman’s statement and a Dear Colleague letter to House Democrats follow:
“Today’s press conference features Christy Zink, a woman who lives in the nation’s capital whose story personifies our outrage when our citizens are used as guinea pigs by members of the House and Senate to showcase their pet political issues, however cruel, dangerous or personal. We will hear more about how women and their families respond, and the dangers they face, when ideologues exploit such issues, from Christy leaders of the national pro-choice groups who are here today. We will hear from our Mayor, Vincent C. Gray, as well, because the bill at issue is a double attack on our city and the individual rights of our citizens.
Before hearing from Christy Zink, a professor at George Washington University, though, I want to alert our city, the nation and my House Democratic colleagues, to whom I am sending and releasing a Dear Colleague letter today, to the boundary crossed by the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R.3803/S.2103), introduced by Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT). This bill is far more than the usual congressional abuse of the city’s home rule to keep the city from spending its own local funds as it chooses, as other local jurisdictions are free to do. Instead, this bill reaches well beyond invasion of our rights as a city to violate the individual constitutional rights of our citizens based solely on their residency in the District of Columbia.
In a brazen departure, even for today’s Republicans, Representative Franks and Senator Lee invoke the power Congress gave up, except for narrow exceptions, with passage of the 1973 Home Rule Act, and move well beyond routine Republican assertions of authority to violate the basic founding principle of consent of the governed. This bill seeks to place American citizens who live in the nation’s capital outside of the protection of the Constitution. For the first time in American history, members of Congress are trying to deny our citizens an individual constitutional right enjoyed by every other citizen of the United States. The Franks-Lee D.C. abortion ban bill, ostensibly premised on science, however questionable, would bar only women in the nation’s capital from having abortions after 20 weeks. The bill, a clear violation of Roe v. Wade, is no less unconstitutional by its targeting of women in the District of Columbia. To the contrary, the bill is doubly constitutionally burdened by violating both Roe and the 14th Amendment right to equal treatment by intentionally discriminating against women who live in the nation’s capital.
This bill speeds past any regard for the federalist principle of local control, a central tenet in the nation’s founding document. In 1973, Congress passed the Home Rule Act, ending decades of race-based denial of democracy led by Southern Democrats. Now, it is Republicans who increasingly target the District and its citizens as foils for other ideological concerns. The Home Rule Act gave the District its democratic home-rule rights with very few limited exceptions. The right to reproductive freedom for the women who live in the District was not among those exceptions.
We were able to eliminate all the riders from the D.C. budget when Democrats controlled the House. With disdain for the honest differences among Americans, Republicans were able to re-impose the abortion rider, denying reproductive choice to many of our low-income women. Nevertheless, we have prevailed over an even more serious Republican attempt to make the rider permanent. The Franks-Lee D.C. abortion ban bill, however, carries Republican arrogance to new levels of undemocratic interference, defying federalist principles, reproductive rights and equal protection of the laws all at once.
The sponsors of the bill cannot be ignorant of its constitutional infirmities. As the Supreme Court said in Callan v. Wilson, ‘There is nothing in the history of the Constitution or of the original amendments to justify the assertion that the people of this District may be lawfully deprived of the benefit of any of the constitutional guarantees of life, liberty, and property.’ The conclusion is unavoidable that the introduction of such a bill at the federal level during an election year is an exercise in political cynicism designed to introduce a new wedge among the American people concerning personal decisions that our society now leaves to a woman, her family, her physician and others to whom she might look for guidance, including clergy.
With last year’s civil disobedience, residents, led by the Mayor of the District of Columbia and members of the D.C. Council, have shown that we will never accept treatment of our city as a second-class jurisdiction in the United States. Those who go further and target our citizens as individuals for second-class treatment violate our constitutional rights as American citizens. Action in our country reminiscent of authoritarian regimes has always invited resistance. The Franks-Lee D.C. abortion ban bill will get that resistance and the fight from women and families across the country that it deserves.”
Stand with D.C. and Women across the Country to Stop the Extreme GOP Abortion Ban
Dear Democratic Colleague:
On January 23, 2012, House Republicans, led by Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ), and the National Right to Life Committee unleashed a full-fledged attack on Roe v. Wade and the nation’s women, using the women in the nation’s capital as pawns. In introducing H.R. 3803, the so-called “District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” Republicans seek to ban all abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy with only extremely limited exceptions for the “death of the pregnant woman” or her “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions.” Armed with their latest justification to restrict the constitutionally guaranteed rights of women, controversial “new evidence” of early fetal pain, Republicans have rallied their most ardent and extreme supporters to redouble their endless assaults on home rule in the District, but this time with the clear intent of achieving a federal legislative precedent that endangers women’s reproductive rights here and ultimately across the nation.
H.R. 3803 is the most direct attack on Roe v. Wade in decades. The bill not only seeks to alter the established viability timeline regarding the regulation of abortions, it also fails to consider the unique circumstances that arise in pregnancies, and therefore has the potential to eviscerate the entire Roe framework. Sponsors and supporters of H.R. 3803 are trying to create a new timetable that would ignore the viability standard established in Roe, and move to an even more scientifically tenuous standard of “pain capability.” The bill simultaneously fails to consider the potential health risks that may accompany pregnancy, and is wholly insufficient to address cases in which a woman’s health may be in danger. Nor does the bill provide exceptions for other circumstances, such as cases of rape, incest, or fetal anomaly.
House Republicans insist that they were sent to Washington to pass legislation to improve the economy, but their focus has been increasingly social policy, and particularly abortion services. They have the usual support. When asked about the organization’s top legislative priorities for 2012, Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said, “building upon recent success in five states, [the] National Right to Life [Committee] will urge Congress to adopt a ban on abortion pain-capable unborn children in the Federal District, and will push for enactment of this ban in several more states.” National Right to Life Committee Federal Legislative Director Douglas Johnson said that “[e]nactment of the D.C. Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act will be a top legislative priority for [the] National Right to Life [Committee] during 2012.” Understanding the far-reaching scope of this bill, and the energy and resources that anti-choice advocates are going to put behind it, pro-choice groups have also indicated that stopping this bill will be a top legislative priority in 2012.
Women will surely take no comfort that Republicans have come for the women of the District of Columbia, first our low-income women, and now all women who live in the nation’s capital. Trampling on the rights of the only women disarmed of the congressional representation that all other women enjoy is easy enough for Republican bullies. However, Republicans have proudly announced a nationwide campaign against Roe, state by state, with the women of the District as their unwilling trophy.
This bill is multi-purposed and aimed particularly at Democrats in an election year, and women expect us to fight to protect their right to make decisions regarding their health, individual circumstances, and the conditions of their own bodies. The District should not be left to fight this attack alone, particularly when Republicans’ goal is to undermine the reproductive rights of women nationwide. This time there can be no doubt about the national implications of a bill with D.C.’s name on it that is fraught with dangers for the reproductive rights of the nation’s women.
I ask you to stand with the District and women across the country, and oppose extremists’ assault on Roe.
Eleanor Holmes Norton
Published: February 21, 2012