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Abortion Ban Hangs Over D.C. Budget Autonomy Efforts

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Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell
Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell

By Emma Dumain
Roll Call Staff

The elation that greeted Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell's announcement last week that he backs giving D.C. control of its own budget is tempered by concerns among local officials and activists that any such measure could still carry an abortion ban along with it.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees D.C. affairs, expressed his commitment late last year to giving budget autonomy to the District to help city government avoid a shutdown whenever Congress appears unable to pass a spending bill.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), Mayor Vincent Gray and others welcomed the proposal but reluctantly rejected the plan Issa unveiled in November because it contained a provision barring local funding for abortions -- a move Issa said was necessary to win Republican votes.

Issa continues to work on a bill to establish budget autonomy that will satisfy stakeholders on both sides.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, said in an email that the organization "would oppose any [budget autonomy] legislation ... unless it contains, at a minimum, a permanent prohibition on government-funded abortions in the Federal District."

The influential group is already waging a battle in support of a bill that would ban abortions in the District after 20 weeks unless the mother's life is in danger.

Activists supporting more autonomy for the District say that dynamic is exactly what they fear: Norton and others might be willing to swallow the bitter pill of an abortion rider to win long-sought budget autonomy.

"At this point, the likelihood of a budget autonomy bill passing without riders is an open question," DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka said. "It's something we will continue to push for and get more active in pushing for."

Norton has maintained that it is too early to start guessing what Issa's next proposal might look like and emphasizes that a positive working relationship is reason to be hopeful for a "clean bill."

"When you have the kind of relationship where you can get as far as we got on the bill itself, you don't start off by saying what you won't accept," she said. "Everybody knows where we stand on these riders and how strongly we feel about this, but I don't see anything now standing in the way of, whatever anybody wants to put on the table, bringing us to that table, too."

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