Trent Franks again offers bill to ban late-term abortions in District


House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), left, and Rep. Trent Franks R-Ariz.). (Associated Press)
April 29, 2013

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) has reintroduced a bill that would ban nearly all abortions in the District after the 20th week of pregnancy, reviving an issue that pitted abortion foes against advocates for D.C. rights last year.

Franks’s measure, the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, would prohibit such abortions except to save the life of the mother, under the theory that fetuses older than 20 weeks can feel pain. As of Monday, Franks’s bill had 93 co-sponsors, with Rep. Daniel Lipinski (Ill.) the lone Democrat joining 92 Republicans.

In a statement last week, Franks linked the bill to the ongoing trial of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia doctor accused of performing illegal late-term abortions, including killing live babies after they were born. And Franks dismissed the notion that his measure interfered with the District’s self-governance.

“I am astonished that opponents of my bill argue that it usurps local authority,” Franks said. “To the contrary, it is precisely because the Constitution grants ‘exclusive’ authority to Congress to create ‘Legislation in all Cases whatsoever’ for D.C. that I felt compelled to introduce this bill.”

The House defeated a version of the same bill in July 2012. The measure got 220 “yes” votes and 154 opposed, but it was considered under a procedure that required two-thirds support for passage.

That setback came two months after Franks chaired a subcommittee hearing on the bill, and sparked controversy by denying D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s request that she be allowed to testify. The activist group D.C. Vote also staged a protest at Franks’s office, sarcastically inviting him to try his hand at solving other local problems.

To Norton (D) and other District leaders, Franks’s legislation is the latest example of congressional Republicans seeking to impose their abortion views on D.C. without regard to local opinion. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and several D.C. Council members were arrested at a Capitol Hill protest in 2011 after President Obama and Republicans cut a deal on a spending bill that prevented the District from spending its own money on providing abortions for low-income women.

Though it is unclear if or when Franks’s latest bill will get another hearing or floor vote, Norton vowed Monday to battle Franks’s efforts again this year.

“Trent Franks and the anti-choice groups are about to find out that our resistance to the anti-democratic use of federal power against our local jurisdiction and the reproductive freedom of our women equals their persistence in trying to violate our rights,” Norton said in a statement.

The National Right to Life Committee, meanwhile, has again sought to rally support for Franks’s bill. The group has said it considers the D.C. legislation one of its top priorities, and has succeeded in passing similar bills in several other states.

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