This item has been updated.
Democrats and District officials amplified their complaints Thursday ahead of an afternoon congressional hearing on a bill that would ban all abortions in the District after 20 weeks.
Rep. Trent Franks’ (R-Ariz.) bill, the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, would prohibit all D.C. abortions beyond 20 weeks except to save the life of the mother, based on the much-debated idea that fetuses beyond that point are capable of feeling pain. The measure will be the subject of a 4 p.m. hearing before the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, which Franks chairs.
At a news conference before the hearing Thursday afternoon, Norton said the measure made her feel “disgust and anger,” as “the reach of this bill goes well beyond anything we have experienced.”
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) also gave his take, sarcastically suggesting that if Franks “feels this strongly” about how the District runs itself, “I would invite him to become a candidate for D.C. Council.”
At her own media briefing Thursday morning, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) weighed in on Norton’s side.
“It isn’t even a close call,” Pelosi said. “We have a member of Congress who wants to come in to talk about her district. I can’t even imagine a situation where someone else would be denied that opportunity and I think it’s wrong.”
Asked about the same subject Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said: “I’m not familiar with the testimony or the hearing, so it’d be hard for me to comment.”
Traditionally, the minority party in the House is allowed to invite the testimony of one witness. For this hearing, Democrats have tapped Christy Zink, a D.C. resident who has spoken publicly before of having an abortion at 21 weeks after tests showed her fetus had life-threatening brain anomalies. Republicans have asked three doctors to testify.
A Republican Judiciary Committee aide who requested anonymity to discuss the decision said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), the subcommittee’s top Democrats, “has complete discretion as to whom the Democrats’ witness is. Nadler chose a D.C. resident, Christy Zink. Nadler could have invited Ms. Norton, but he didn’t.”
But members of Congress are usually allowed to testify at a hearing, separate from any witness quota, if a bill specifically impacts their districts. “Never in my 20 years as a Member of Congress have I seen a colleague treated so contemptuously,” Nadler said of Norton.
Another debate over minority testimony drew attention earlier this year at a House hearing on contraception coverage that featured an all-male panel of witnesses. In that case, unlike this one, committee Democrats specifically alleged that their preferred witness was not allowed to testify.
Norton and her fellow District leaders have clashed repeatedly with Hill Republicans over abortion, particularly over a policy — agreed to by President Obama as part of a spending deal — barring the city from spending its own money to pay for abortions for low-income women.
Franks’ bill would go further, in that it bars all abortions after 20 weeks, regardless of who pays. The bill is modeled after a National Right to Life Committee measure, versions of which have already become law in six states.
“This legislation is NRLC’s top congressional priority for 2012,” said Douglas Johnson, the group’s legislative director, later adding: “A vote against H.R. 3803 will be scored by NRLC as a vote to ratify a policy of unlimited legal abortion until the moment of birth in the nation’s capital.”
Franks’ bill had 193 co-sponsors as of Thursday morning. A Senate version, backed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), had 23 co-sponsors. It is unclear when the House bill might actually come up for a vote before the full Judiciary panel or on the House floor, and the Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass it.
Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.