In a vote that could affect a longstanding match of abortion funding Ping-Pong between local residents and the federal government, today Washington, D.C., voters will cast ballots on a referendum for local budget autonomy.
Unlike states, which create and approve their own budgets without interference from the federal government, D.C. is unable to spend budgeted funds within a new fiscal year until Congress approves a federal budget. During contentious negotiations over a federal budget, Congress has repeatedly stripped D.C.’s ability to allocate local revenue toward local Medicaid dollars that support women accessing abortion care.
Two years ago, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray was one of many individuals arrested as part of a large civil disobedience demonstration in protest of a D.C. abortion funding ban attached to the 2011 Continuing Resolution as part of a last-minute negotiation between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). The president reportedly told Boehner, “John, I’ll give you D.C. abortion.”
According to a fact sheet prepared by advocacy group D.C. Vote, which is supporting the referendum:
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Once the referendum is approved by DC residents, Congress has 35 legislative days to pass a disapproval resolution, which must be agreed upon by the House and the Senate, as well as the President. If Congress does not pass a disapproval resolution the referendum becomes law.
Still, the referendum has been met with some controversy from advocates who say it’s unclear what Congress will do if the referendum passes. In an ominous sign for reproductive rights, an anonymous official from the mayor’s office told the Washington Post earlier this week that Mayor Gray may become willing to make a “compromise” on abortion funding in order to secure budget autonomy approval from Congress.
[Disclosure: The author of this piece testified in favor of this resolution before the D.C. Council in November 2012, prior to her employment at Rewire.]