House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has drafted a proposal that would give Washington, D.C. greater autonomy over how it spends its money -- unless it wants to use that money to pay for low-income women's abortions.
The bill's abortion prohibition would codify the D.C. abortion-spending ban that President Obama conceded to Republicans during budget negotiations in the spring. All 50 U.S. states are legally allowed to use their own funds for abortion care.
“John, I will give you D.C. abortion, but I am not happy about it," Obama infamously told House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) at the time, referring to language in the budget bill that would prevent D.C. from using its own locally raised funds to help women pay for abortions.
Now, low-income women in D.C. can no longer use Medicaid to pay for abortion care, except in cases of rape, incest, or when their lives are in danger. A non-profit organization called the D.C. Abortion Fund, which provides grants to women in the D.C. metro area who cannot afford the full cost of an abortion, says it has received double the amount of requests for help since the ban took effect in April.
"That's over 2,000 people-- women and girls-- calling our helpline," said Val Vilott, president of DCAF. "Those who previously would have been able to go to a clinic and use Medicaid are now faced with raising the full cost on their own, or in collaboration with community organizations like us."
Issa's proposed bill would allow D.C. the freedom to spend its money as soon as it is budgeted like states can, instead of having to wait for Congress to grant permission. This would stop Congress from being able to use the District as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations and potentially prevent future government shutdowns over the issue.
But city officials, including Mayor Vincent Gray, have yet to take a position on the bill, ostensibly because of its controversial abortion caveat.
"Mayor Gray is aware that the pro-life movement placed a lot of pressure on Congressman Issa to continue the prohibition on using local dollars for abortion," Doxie McCoy, Gray's spokeswoman, told HuffPost. "We will have more to say at a later time upon full review of the legislation by the Mayor and staff."
Issa's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Vilott, who runs the D.C. Abortion Fund as an unpaid volunteer, said she has encountered thousands of local women and girls who would be negatively affected by the ban if it goes into effect. An abortion can cost anywhere from about $150 to over $1,000, depending on how far the pregnancy has progressed.
"Many of the women we serve are in dire circumstances economically," Vilott said. "Everything from young mothers who already have children and are trying to find employment or struggling to find childcare for existing families, to students in high school who have found out they're pregnant and live with families that are already struggling economically. Some are survivors of domestic violence who learn they're pregnant and want to terminate — it really runs the gamut."
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) did not respond to a question from HuffPost about the abortion language included in Issa's proposal, but she said in a statement that she planned to meet with Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown to evaluate it.
"We appreciate that Chairman Issa has followed up on his statements at a May hearing that he wanted to give the District of Columbia more authority over its local budget and fiscal year and to avoid future shutdowns of the District government over federal spending fights," she said.
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