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D.C. Budget Autonomy Passes, What’s Next for Abortion Funding Remains Unclear

Erin Matson

Now that the voters have spoken, what's going to happen next?

As expected, an amendment to the District of Columbia Home Rule Act that would allow the D.C. Council to spend local tax revenue without congressional approval passed by wide margins Tuesday.

According to unofficial results, more than 80 percent of ballots cast indicated approval for the Budget Autonomy Amendment. Congress now has 35 days to pass a disapproval amendment, with agreement required from the House, the Senate, and the president.

Currently, the D.C. Council is unable to execute its budget without congressional approval. To secure that approval, President Obama agreed in 2011 to a ban on local D.C. Medicaid funding for abortion.

Although the District of Columbia is subject to federal abortion funding bans applicable to all states and territories, it has no local abortion funding ban. This means that if the District of Columbia was recognized as a state and/or granted budget autonomy without congressionally imposed restrictions, it would under current statute join 17 states nationwide using state funds to cover all or most medically necessary abortions.

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So now that the voters have spoken, what’s going to happen next? Here are a few key players to watch:

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives, is a staunch supporter of reproductive rights and has previously called Republicans attacking local abortion rights “bullies … gang[ing] up on the District to attack the women of this country.”

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has been arrested while participating in non-violent civil disobedience protest of abortion riders placed on the District’s budget, but an anonymous official from his office recently floated a trial balloon to the Washington Post, indicating he may be willing to “compromise” on abortion to further what would ostensibly become partial budget autonomy. That article also indicated that Gray had found an ally in the office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), a known foe of reproductive rights who infamously denied reproductive rights advocate Sandra Fluke an opportunity to testify in favor of birth control access last year.

President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) agreed with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to bar the District of Columbia from locally funding abortions in 2011 as part of a broader federal budget negotiation.

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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