Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) is pushing a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the District of Columbia, but he has denied Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), D.C.'s only elected representative, the chance to testify on behalf of the city's residents.
Norton wrote a letter to Franks last week asking him for the opportunity to testify at a hearing for the bill in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, which Franks chairs. Franks said the Democrats were only entitled to one witness and that the subcommittee had chosen Christy Zink, a George Washington University professor with a personal late-term abortion story.
But Norton says that Franks' denial of her testimony breaks the tradition that a member of Congress can testify about a bill that affects his or her constituents, which Congress has honored since the 19th century.
"Certainly, if the bill covers one district, you would expect the representative who can express the views of the constituents in that district would be heard," Norton told The Huffington Post on Wednesday. She said D.C.'s residents are "up in arms" about the 20-week abortion ban, which has only been passed so far in five conservative states.
"This is the first bill in history that attempts to take the residents of the District of Columbia outside of the protection of the Constitution," she continued. "The right to have an abortion until viability is a mandated right under Roe v. Wade. I think it takes a lot of nerve to single out the constituents of another member's district for discriminatory treatment, and we deeply resent it."
Franks' office did not respond to requests for comment. But he told HuffPost when he introduced the bill in January that "the Constitution could not be more clear" about the fact that D.C. is fair game for any U.S. congressman.
"Those, like Representative Holmes Norton, who oppose the D.C. Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act on the basis that its primary sponsor is from a different state simply fail to understand a Constitutional principle that couldn't be more plain," he said. "Congress has the seminal and incontrovertible responsibility for making legislative policy in the District of Columbia. Those who pretend to question that are in fact trying to direct attention away from the true purpose of this bill, which is to help prevent unborn children beginning at the sixth month of pregnancy and beyond from being subject to the agonizing process of being aborted."
This is not the first time Congress has used D.C. as a political football in the fight against abortion rights. President Barack Obama conceded D.C. abortion funding to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) during House budget negotiations in 2011, and House Republicans pushed a federal spending bill through in December that banned D.C. from using its own money to subsidize abortion care for low-income women.
D.C. is an easy target for anti-abortion bills, Norton said, because it doesn't have any elected officials who can vote in Congress.
"Why wouldn't they put this bill in for the entire country if they feel so deeply about it? The reason is that they're bullies, so they know that you pick on the district whose member cannot vote on the House floor, you pick on the member who does not have any Senators to protect her, and maybe you can get somewhere."