Hearing for D.C. Abortion Bill Set for Next Week

Posted May 9, 2012 at 4:21pm

A House Judiciary Committee panel will hold a hearing next week on a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks in the District of Columbia.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) told Roll Call on Wednesday afternoon that the Judiciary Subcommitee on the Constitution, which he is the chairman of, will hear testimony May 17, but he did not release a witness list.

“It is a very strong priority in the pro-life community,” said Franks, who unveiled the bill in January in conjunction with a press conference at the National Press Club convened by the National Right to Life Committee.

NRLC legislative director Douglas Johnson has said that passing the bill, which has a Senate companion introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), is the No. 1 legislative priority in the 112th Congress for his organization. He has also suggested that if House Members do not get an opportunity to vote on the bill in the full House, it could become a rider on any legislation to give D.C. control of its own budget.

Franks’ measure is modeled after laws enacted in Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia. The ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy is based on the argument by some medical experts that after this threshold the fetus can begin to feel pain.

The bill would make it illegal for doctors to perform abortions in the District after the 20th week of pregnancy. Penalties include fines and prison terms of up to two years. The measure includes exceptions for women whose lives are in danger.

D.C. activists have rallied against the legislation for what they see as its infringement on local autonomy. But they have also been calling on allies in the abortion-rights community to join the fight.

The two factions joined forces earlier this year for a press conference on Capitol Hill, and the women of the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to female Democratic Senators imploring them to get involved.

“Home rule contemplates allowing the District to deal with its local issues locally, and we’d like to see Congressman Franks and others Members of the House and Senate respect those rights and, if anything, provide more home rule, not seek to provide less,” DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka said today.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) has also pledged to fight the bill.

“We do not intend to succumb to the insatiable Republican obsession with interfering with the rights of women in our city,” she said at the time of the introduction of Franks’ measure.

Though the subcommittee hearing next week signals some momentum for the legislation, it does not guarantee a committee markup or consideration on the House floor.

And with the Senate and White House in Democratic hands, the bill has no clear path to enactment unless it is included as a provision on another piece of must-sign legislation.

Correction: 6:45 p.m. 

An earlier version of this story did not include all of the states which have enacted bans on abortions after 20 weeks.