Talk about taxation without representation. It's bad enough that residents of the District have no vote in Congress when decisions about their federal taxes are made. But now the House has actually voted to prevent the District from using its own local revenues for a purpose that is legal in every other jurisdiction in the country.
The 221-to-199 vote came during House consideration of the District's annual appropriations bill. The issue was the District government's policy of using local revenues -- not federal funds but local income, sales, property and other taxes -- to pay for abortions for indigent women. This same policy is in effect in 14 states, several of them under court order. Its purpose is to ensure that women who are poor are not denied access to an important medical service that can be freely purchased by upper-and middle-income women -- a purpose clearly within the legitimate purview of state and local governments.
Rep. Christopher Smith of New Jersey, however, doesn't think that the District ought to have the same discretion in this matter that his own state has. On the House floor he said that the "home rule" issue is "baloney." After all, he argued, home rule or states rights were once invoked in defense of retaining slavery and segregation, and those defenses were properly rejected. Moreover, the federal government puts conditions on the use of its funds to pressure states to adopt environmental and many other regulatory controls, so why not use its power to prevent local funding of abortions?
The difference, of course, is that, in the first instance, the actions being defended were found to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Rep. Smith surely wishes that abortion were unconsitutional too, but the fact is that it is not. And when Congress uses its funding power to regulate activities that it deems undesirable, federal not local monies are involved and the rules are applied uniformly to all states and jurisdictions.
As for comparisons made by Rep. Robert Dornan of California to efforts by Congress to sanction China for allegedly condoning infanticide and coerced abortion, the difference again is that those activities are illegal both here and in China whereas voluntary abortions, within limits set by the Supreme Court, are not only legal but constitutionally protected.
People obviously disagree sharply about the desirability and morality of abortion under various circumstances. But in a democratic society, citizens of a locality, acting through their duly elected representatives, certainly ought to be able to choose to use their own taxes to make a constitutionally protected service available to the poor as well as the wealthy. Most members of the House understand that, and when the House meets in conference with the Senate -- whose version of the bill does not include the anti-abortion amendment -- presumably calmer heads will prevail. But as long as many members run in terror whenever the word "abortion" is mentioned, you can expect more nonsense to keep emerging from the House.