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Arizona congressman targets D.C. in bill banning abortions after 20 weeks

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WASHINGTON – Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, was scheduled to introduce a bill Monday that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation – but only in the nation’s capital.

The District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was to be introduced to Monday evening, Franks office said. That would coincide with Monday’s March for Life, a rally in Washington to mark the 39th anniversary this weekend of the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion.

Franks was not available to comment on the bill, which was praised by pro-life groups and criticized by District officials, who just last month saw Congress impose other abortion restrictions on the city.

“It’s going to come as a shock to many Americans to learn that in the federal city, the capital of our nation, abortion is now allowed for any reason at any point in pregnancy,” said Douglas Johnson, federal legislative director for National Right to Life Committee. “There are no restrictions whatsoever.

“Abortions are being performed and openly advertised in the federal district far past the point at which an unborn child becomes capable of experiencing pain,” Johnson said at a Monday event highlighting the bill along with other pro-life proposals.

Johnson said five states – Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, Oklahoma and Alabama – have found that a fetus begins to feel pain after 20 weeks and have adopted laws that ban abortions after that time.

The fact that Arizona is not one of those states is not lost on Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting representative to Congress.

“If Rep. Franks is so intent on such a bill, I think he should add Arizona to the jurisdiction to which his bill would apply,” Norton said. “Why would anyone do something to us that he wouldn’t do to his own district?”

Such legislative “bullying” of the District needs to stop, Norton said. Under the Home Rule Act passed in 1973, the District gained certain autonomy, but Congress still retains final approval of proposed laws and the budget in the city.

But Johnson said the National Right to Life Committee can back Franks’ bill because Congress does have authority over the Federal District.

“Congress has been doing that for hundreds of years because the Constitution gives them the responsibility over this federal district that a state legislature has over a state,” he said.

Johnson said he believes the bill has a good chance of success in the House because of Franks’ position as chairman of a Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.

“The fact that you have the chairman of the panel with jurisdiction actually introducing the bill is one reason to take it seriously,” he said. “You’re more likely to see progress on this legislation than on some other bills.”

Other D.C.-targeted bills have been passed in Congress since Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives, said Norton, a Democrat.

Just last month, the fiscal 2012 spending bill included a provision for a second year that prohibits the District from using local funds to provide abortion services to low-income women.

“Republicans should butt out of our business,” Norton said. “(Franks) is empowered to introduce legislation to the people of the United States, not the people in particular cities with whose policies they may have a particular issue.”