D.C. Government Poised to Direct Taxpayer Funds Toward Abortion Coverage

The District of Columbia appears poised to free up taxpayer money for abortions after Congress passed a spending bill over the weekend that ended a ban on the funding so long as locally raised taxes are used.

City government officials are generally supportive of the change in law and are exploring ways to enact it, aides said.

"We've already started to study the issues," a City Council staffer said, predicting the matter could come up in the spring -- along with a change allowing the District to permit medical marijuana. One possibility is that abortion coverage could be added to the D.C. Healthcare Alliance, which is the city's taxpayer-funded health program for low-income and other residents.

President Obama is expected to sign the appropriations bill, so the ball is in the D.C. government's court to take action.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton applauded the passage Sunday of the $1.1 trillion spending bill, which contained the abortion provision.

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    She has argued that the restriction created "severe hardships" for poor women in the city and that the law singled them out for "unfair and unequal treatment" -- since states can use their tax dollars for abortion services.

    Doxie McCoy, spokeswoman for Council Chairman Vincent Gray, said the Council would likely support any legislative action before it to enact the change, though it's not clear whether that step would be necessary.

    "I'm not aware of any objections," she said.

    Gray previously had called the move a "bold step" by Congress.

    While abortion-rights supporters said the change was needed and that the existing law was unfair, the shift generated considerable opposition. Thirty-five U.S. senators wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in early December expressing "grave concerns" about the possibility of "massive taxpayer subsidies for abortions" through the D.C. measure and other provisions.

    Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said in a statement at the time that Democrats were trying to sneak in the abortion language.

    "At the same time that congressional Democratic leaders are trying to win enactment of government-funded abortion in their health care legislation, they are also considering using end-of-year omnibus appropriations legislation to try to smuggle in removals of longstanding bans on government-funded abortion in the nation's capital, and in their own insurance plans," he said.

    But McCoy said the change just puts the District on par with other states that can already do the same thing.

    According to statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, 7,230 women obtained abortions in Washington in 2005 -- that's 54 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age. The rate, while exceedingly high, marked a 20 percent decline from 2000.