Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill on Jan. 20 that would prohibit the use of federal tax money for funding abortions in the District of Columbia. Since the federal government has oversight over the D.C. government and budget, the bill would also prohibit D.C. tax dollars from being used for the same purpose.
Passage of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would represent a reinstatement of a similar ban repealed in 2009.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) is spearheading the effort with the support of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus and 161 co-sponsors.
“President Obama has said he wants abortion to be rare,” Smith said in a Jan. 20 press conference. “To Mr. Obama I say, ‘here is a bill for you’… Studies show that when abortion is not publically funded, abortions in the covered population are reduced by roughly 25 percent.”
Many Democrats, however, feel the specific provisions in the bill that target D.C. are really just partisan politics at work.
“The new Republican majority has spent its first three weeks preaching about the need to reduce the federal government’s power,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said in a press release. “Yet the third bill they introduced this Congress prohibits a local jurisdiction from spending its own funds.”
This is not the first time that representatives of the District have felt its political autonomy compromised regarding abortion as well as other areas. Special restrictions prohibited funding for medical marijuana, needle exchange programs and abortions in D.C. until the Democratic majority in Congress repealed them in 2009. It would be legally impossible to impose similar provisions on a state government.
Some D.C. groups see this bill more as an issue of District autonomy than one of abortion policy.
“[The Republicans in Congress] act as if the District doesn’t exist — as if it’s an agency of the federal government,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director for D.C. Vote, an organization that works to secure full representation for D.C. residents. “We are worried about the bigger ramifications of what it says about the intentions of the House leadership.”
Zherka anticipates that the bill will not be the last attempt by the Republicans to roll back the city’s authority.
The bill does not apply to cases of forcible rape, incest involving a minor or situations in which pregnancy puts the mother’s life in danger.