ABORTION, the word itself, triggers emotions. And those emotions will be on display in the next few weeks as forces for and against abortion do war during Congress' discussion of the District's discussion of the District's 1981 budget, which takes effect on Oct. 1. Last year Congress voted to prohibit the city from using federal money to pay for abortions. But that ban did not apply to money in the District treasury from District government to extend the prohibition to the use of D.C. taxpayers' money.
Congress, of course, is not the place for any decision to be made on how local tax dollars are spent. It may still have the right to legislate how the District spends its money, but that power has not been exercised to thwart the desire of local voters or officials on so major an issue since limited home rule was approved for the city.
Local anti-abortion groups, unable to win sufficient local support for their beliefs, are now seeking to have Congress impose their standard on all District residents. Nellie Gray, president of the D.C. Right-to-Life group, says it is hypocrisy for Congress to allow District residents to "decide whether to kill their young" while arguing with District political leaders over relatively smaller issues, such as whether the public university needs two campuses. She says Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and other congressmen who say that the federal government has no right to tell a state (and thus the District) how to spend its money are making a case that does not apply to the District because the District is not a state but a federal territory controlled by Congress.
That argument is not convincing. Under the Hyde Amendment, for example, federal dollars are not used to pay for abortions, even if the abortions qualilfy for Medicaid coverage. But the Hyde Amendment places no prohibitions on the use of local tax dollars for abortions. And although the District may not be a state, there is no question that there are local taxpayers here, as distinct from the federal government, who have local standards and some rights. The D.C. government is willingly paying the cost of certain aabortions. Anti-abortionists can mount a local campaign to halt use of local tax dollars for abortions if that is their goal. But congressional interference in the local people's right to raise taxes and spend the money is wrong.