District leaders sought to rally their forces Tuesday against a bill that would put new restrictions on abortions in the city.
Local activists began sounding the alarm a month ago, when the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was introduced by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.). But with a companion measure being offered last week by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and a broader national debate raging over reproductive rights issues, city officials are trying to draw a new wave of attention to the legislation.
The bill would prohibit abortions in the District after 20 weeks except to save the life of the mother, because beyond that marker — anti-abortion groups say — a fetus is capable of experiencing pain.
Rather than argue that point, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) convened a press conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday to make the case that the bill is an unacceptable infringement on the District’s autonomy.
The bill, Norton said, “seeks to intentionally discriminate against women because they live in the nation’s capital. . . . This bill is far more than the usual Congressional abuse that you hear us talk about all the time.”
Gray said the bill’s supporters would never try to pass the same law on a national level.
“The view is, if you do it in the District of Columbia you can probably get away with it,” Gray said.
In fact, D.C. is not the only jurisdiction where such a measure is on the move. Similar bills have been enacted in five states already, and while Norton and others argue that the measures conflict with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, the National Right to Life Committee says “[n]one of these laws have faced any serious legal challenge to date.”
On introducing his measure last week, Lee said: “Protecting unborn children from experiencing pain should not be controversial. Similar laws have already been passed in multiple states. With respect to the Federal District, Congress not only has the responsibility to act immediately, but also the undisputed authority to do so.”
Also appearing at Tuesday’s event was Christy Zink, a George Washington University professor who said she underwent an abortion in her 22nd week after tests revealed severe brain anomalies that would have severely impaired the baby’s ability to function and would have caused near-constant seizures.
The House bill currently has 130 co-sponsors, including Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). A Judiciary aide said the panel had not yet scheduled the bill for consideration. The Senate version has one co-sponsor, and is unlikely to receive a hearing as long as Democrats control the chamber.