Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Gus Bilirakis and Steve Southerland (all Republicans, all Floridians) joined several federal lawmakers who sent a letter to District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray demanding an accounting of the use of local funds that were legally used to pay for elective abortion procedures.
Until 2009, the District had been operating under a congressional ban that prevented local money being used for elective abortion procedures. That ban was reinstated recently as part of the deal made by President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to prevent a federal government shutdown.
“I will give you D.C. abortion. I’m not happy about it,” Obama said during the final hours of negotiations, according to The Washington Post. The compromise, which was ultimately accepted by Boehner and House Republicans, allowed the White House and Senate Democrats to fend off a GOP proposal that would have placed severe limits on numerous nonprofit groups, including Planned Parenthood, that provide abortion services throughout the country.
But while most of the nation celebrated that a government shutdown had been averted, District residents, including Gray and other officials, saw the move as one more strike against their limited autonomy as provided in the Home Rule Act (.pdf).
“Yesterday (April 11), I had the honor of being arrested for demonstrating my outrage at how my hometown, the District of Columbia, is being treated by Congress. I am outraged because are being told — no, being forced — to spend our own money that way someone else sees fit. That someone is Congress,” Gray said.
“We are being told what to spend and what not to spend, whether the programs are beneficial to the District or not. This is a travesty.”
Although the federal Hyde Amendment prohibits any federal dollars being used for elective abortion procedures, states have always been able to decide for themselves — through their own legislative process — if their dollars would be used to fund such medical expenses. The District remains under the total jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress. Although residents have been allowed to choose their own local leaders since 1973, Congress can overturn any decision made by local officials.
The District has no elected U.S. senators, nor does it have a voting member of the U.S. House. Despite this, however, the District must adhere to all federal laws, and must abide by congressional decisions made on its behalf. In conjunction with 2011 income tax day, District leaders noted that their residents are expected to pay nearly $3.9 billion in federal income taxes before the end of the year, “while being denied the democratic rights enjoyed by other taxpaying Americans.”
The bicameral letter to Gray signed by Diaz-Balart, Bilirakis and Southerland not only calls attention to the fact that a rider removing the abortion allowance was included in recent budget negotiations — something that they “trust you will act immediately to respect and faithfully implement” — but demands “detailed information about abortion funding in the District during the period in which the D.C. Hyde amendment was not in place”:
We are also disappointed that repeated requests for information about public funding for abortion in the District of Columbia (D.C.) have been ignored by the D.C. government including your administration. Multiple letters (attached) by members of Congress have been sent asking whether the city had begun funding elective abortion and requesting information about abortion funding activities. While these questions have gone unanswered, your Director of the Department of Health Care Finance Wayne Turnage was “kind enough to offer a detailed answer” to a Washington Post blogger. According to Turnage, the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance has paid for “117 elective abortions totally about $62,000.” We again ask for a prompt reply to all of the questions posed in the attached letters and request that your answers include information regarding the entire time period during which the D.C. Hyde amendment was not in effect. [Emphasis in original.]
A press release from the Mayor’s Office dated April 12 states that since the District began paying for elective abortion procedures in August 2010 “an estimated total of 117 elective abortions and 73 therapeutic abortions were provided, as reported by the District’s Managed Care Organization for Medicaid and Alliance beneficiaries. Presently the cost to the District for elective abortion services provided after August 1, 2010 is an estimated $62,300. The estimated cost of therapeutic abortions is $125,200.”
Although abortion remains a heated topic throughout the nation, it is hardly the only portion of the budget negotiations that have caused residents of the District angst. Gray was joined by a host of educational and civil rights organizations on April 14 in voicing displeasure with a school-voucher provision included in the deal. The provision revives a program that provides government-funding scholarships that a handful of D.C. students can use to attend private and parochial schools.
“I acknowledge that people of goodwill can and do disagree about vouchers. What is unconscionable to me, however, is what this program’s continuation represents,” Gray said. “And what it represents is the use of the District and her 600,000 residents, once again, as bargaining chips in political negotiations and guinea pigs for the favorite social experiments of important congressional leaders.”
The bicameral letter to Gray, obtained by National Review, appears below: