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Posted at 5:32 PM ET, 02/ 8/2011

DC Vote activists ejected from House abortion bill hearing after protest

By Ben Pershing

Eleven District activists were ejected from a House subcommittee hearing on a controversial abortion bill Tuesday after they staged a silent protest at the start of the session.

The hearing, convened by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, was on the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, a Republican leadership-backed measure designed to prohibit government funding of abortions. The bill has drawn the ire of a wide variety of groups that support abortion rights, but it has also sparked concerns in the District because of its language preventing the city from using its own funds to pay for abortions for low-income women. (Mike DeBonis takes a separate look at whether the District actually has been paying for abortions here.)

Led by DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka, close to a dozen activists took seats in the audience of the hearing room. When the session was called to order, they stood up, covered their mouths with red gags and opened their jackets to reveal T-shirts that said "No Taxation Without Representation." Subcommittee Chairman Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) asked them to sit down and stop disrupting the proceedings, and when they did not, Capitol Police officers entered the room and began escorting the protesters out.

The group -- which also included D.C. Shadow Senator Michael D. Brown (D) -- was lined up in a hallway outside the hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building, where police officers took their names and checked to make sure they had no outstanding warrants. But they were not formally arrested or charged, and were allowed to leave after about 30 minutes.

"They tried to silence the District," Zherka said afterwards. "What we did today was a dignified protest."

DC Vote and city officials, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), are particularly concerned with the wording of the abortion bill. For the purposes of the abortion funding ban, the measure says, "The term 'Federal Government' includes the government of the District of Columbia.'

That, Zherka said, "is a dangerous precedent if it were to be enacted into law in that it rolls back the District's home-rule authority."

While not directly addressing the D.C. issue, the bill's authors have said its sweeping language is necessary to ensure a real ban.

"Our new bill is designed to permanently end any U.S. government financial support for abortion whether it be direct funding or by tax credits or any other subsidy," Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), the lead sponsor, said upon introducing the measure last month.

Activists and some Democrats were unhappy that Norton was refused in her request to testify at Tuesday's hearing. Republicans noted that the minority party was allowed to choose one of the panel's three witnesses, as is customary, and so Democrats were not entitled to add another witness of their own.

At a news conference before the hearing, Norton joined several other Democrats to complain about the bill and the GOP's tactics.

"They pick on the District of Columbia because they think they can," Norton said of Republicans. "I'm here to tell them that they can't. ... The District of Columbia is not a colony of the Congress."

By Ben Pershing  | February 8, 2011; 5:32 PM ET
Categories:  Ben Pershing, Congressional Oversight, Eleanor Holmes Norton  
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They should have been arrested!

Posted by: PZ007 | February 9, 2011 10:10 AM | Report abuse

They should have been arrested!

Posted by: PZ007 | February 9, 2011 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Why didn't Delegate Norton join the protesters in their dignified demonstration?

Posted by: DCResident22 | February 9, 2011 12:27 PM | Report abuse

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