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Colorado Rep. DeGette fights GOP ‘big government’ anti-abortion gambit

In a new chapter of the often topsy-turvy story of the Tea Party era, Colorado Democratic US Rep Diana DeGette this week finds herself championing local government rights against Republican efforts to expand federal power. DeGette on Wednesday urged House and Senate appropriations committees staffers to reject legislative stipulations that aim to prohibit the District of Columbia government from using local tax dollars to pay for abortions as part of its employee insurance policies.

“Not only would this proposed language undermine the self-governing rights of the people of the District of Columbia, it would deny low-income women access to basic, constitutionally protected, medical services,” DeGette, co-chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus, said in a release. “Congress should not violate the District’s right to use its own tax dollars as it sees fit in order to simply advance congressional Republicans’ extreme assault on women’s access to quality reproductive healthcare.”

The political right has long championed local government over federal government as best to represent constituent interests. The Tea Party has leaned on states rights arguments, for example, in its aggressive opposition to the federal health care reform law passed two years ago.

The debate over the abortion restriction references the long struggle to grant the District of Columbia statehood. DC residents have no true representatives in Congress yet Republicans have long opposed statehood for the fact that the District’s largely liberal population would add Democratic votes on Capitol Hill.

The language opposed by DeGette appears in the Fiscal Year 2012 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill and is one of several attempts on the part of Republican lawmakers this year to limit access to abortion.

“This intrusive initiative sadly sends a clear signal that this Congress does not believe vulnerable women are worthy of the same access to quality health as their middle-class and wealthy counterparts.”

One of the clear effects of the law would be to price out abortions for any government employee unable to foot the bill out of pocket.

DeGette made her case to the committees staffers in a letter signed by 59 members of the House, including Colorado Rep Jared Polis, and co-authored with New York Rep Louise Slaughter.

“Washington D.C. is not Congress’ petri dish,” Slaughter said. “We should not be using federal power to experiment with the rights of women, which is why I encourage every member of the Appropriations Committees to reject any effort to limit the District’s control of local funds. “Congress should not be in the business of punishing low-income women and stripping them of their constitutionally-afforded rights. I believe we’d all do well to remember that.”

On Wednesday the Senate is scheduled to mark-up or consider again the various provisions of the appropriations bill.

The DeGette-Slaughter letter:

Dear Democratic members of the House and Senate appropriations committees:

As you consider Fiscal Year 2012 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations legislation, we urge you to protect the District of Columbia’s right to self-government as well as the health and reproductive rights of low-income women in the District of Columbia. We respectfully request that you ensure that language that undermines self-government is not included in subsequent legislation as it was in the House Appropriations committee-approved bill. Specifically, we urge you to not adopt Section 810 of the House bill, which prohibits local tax dollars from being used for abortions for women whose insurance is provided by the District government.

The autonomy of the District is necessary for democratic self-governance, and Congress should be mindful not to violate District residents’ rights to control their own tax dollars. The Home Rule Act of 1973 was a result of decades of efforts to protect the rights of District residents. Republicans have spent much of the 112th Congress interfering in local District matters. Each time Democrats accede to violations of the District’s home rule, we embolden Republicans to continue their attacks.

By failing to permit the District of Columbia to spend local government funds on abortion, we are sending the message that low-income women should not have access to the same medical services that middle- and upper-income women can access. Ultimately, this prohibition may threaten the health of medically vulnerable women and deny patients the right to access constitutionally protected medical services. We must strive to expand health care services for Americans throughout the nation – not place barriers in the road of a woman seeking medical care simply because of the state, city, or district that she lives in.

The District does not have a vote in the House or Senate. But other Democrats do. We urge you to stand strong and to protect the democratic self-government of the District of Columbia.

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