WASHINGTON — With her hand chopping the air in condemnation, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington on Tuesday accused Congress of overstepping its authority with legislation restricting abortions for women in the District of Columbia.
Introduced by Rep. Trent Franks, R- Ariz., the “District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Protection Act” would ban abortions in Washington after a woman’s 20th week of pregnancy. Norton, a Democrat, said at a news conference that the bill tampers with the district’s sovereignty.
“It reaches well beyond the invasion of a jurisdiction to violate the individual constitutional rights of citizens, solely on their residency in the District of Columbia,” said Norton, who, as a House member from D.C., does not have voting rights in Congress.
Congress has long had the power to legislate for Washington, including reviewing measures passed by the city council. But the Home Rule Act of 1972 gave certain powers to the District of Columbia government, which included authority over reproductive legislation.
Franks’ bill is “an exercise in political cynicism,” said Norton, because it would allow Congress to use Washington women as guinea pigs for a potential federal law.
The bill is making its way through the Republican-controlled House. Similar legislation has already passed in Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, Oklahoma and Alabama. Supporters say medical evidence shows that fetuses past the 20-week growth stage can feel pain.
“Medical science proves that the unborn feel pain by at least 20 weeks and perhaps much earlier,” Franks said in an emailed statement. “There is no disagreement in the medical community as to this point.”
After doctors found a cyst on the brain of her fetus, Washington resident Christy Zink said at the news conference, she had an abortion 21 weeks and five days into her pregnancy.
A mother of two, Zink called the bill’s premise—that it would prevent pain to the fetus during the abortion process—a lie. If she had carried her baby boy to term he would have faced constant pain, she said.
“The decision I made to have an abortion at almost 22 weeks was made out of love and to spare my son’s pain and suffering,” Zink said.
A cadre of abortion rights activists joined Zink, calling for the legisliation to be killed. They said the bill would deny women the reproductive rights guaranteed in the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.
“No woman’s constitutional right to choose should depend on her zip code,” said Lissy Moskowitz of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “D.C. is the latest target in an anti-abortion effort to take away decisions from women and their doctors.”
Because it infringes on both Roe v. Wade and the rights of local government, Norton said the bill is “doubly unconstitutional.” Mayor Vincent Gray agreed, prodding Franks to quit his job in Congress.
“If people want to be involved in making the laws of the District of Columbia, they should resign from the Congress of the United States, establish residency and run for the council of the District of Columbia.”