By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C. ( – The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has passed a bill that allows the District of Columbia to fund abortions and legalize the consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but phases out a school-voucher program designed to help lower-income class parents send their children to a school of their choice.

Despite the opposition of a coalition of pro-life Democrats and Republicans, the Financial Services Appropriations bill passed Thursday evening by a 219-208 margin. The measure allocates $768 million in federal funding for the D.C. government, but reversed a long-standing Congressional ban that prohibited the federal district from using public money to subsidize abortions for lower-income women.

The Financial Services Appropriations bill also dropped a decade-long provision that prevented the federal district from legalizing medical marijuana through the initiative process. The bill also establishes a needle-exchange program for drug-users in order to slow the spread of HIV, but slashes $50 million from the government's anti-drug media campaign, reducing its budget to $20 million.

Although lower-income families may soon have public assistance to obtain abortions, the measure eliminates by 2010 the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provided parents a voucher of $7,500 per child that gave them the freedom to send their children to the private school of their choice.  The policy affected the education of 1,716 low-income students, but was opposed by teachers unions and the Obama Administration.

Earlier in the year, seven out of thirteen members of the D.C. Council had pleaded with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to allow them to perpetuate the program.

“We believe we simply cannot turn our backs on these families because doing so will deny their children the quality education they deserve,” the councilmen stated. The councilmen noted with outrage that 216 families newly enrolled in the program learned that the program would be phased out after their children had received letters of acceptance to private schools. “That approach is grossly unfair and completely injurious to the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the families involved,” they stated.

GOP Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) had tried to offer an amendment to allow more lower-income children living in D.C. to enroll in the voucher program, but the measure had been blocked for open debate by the Democratic caucus's liberal leadership, which has sought to prevent its members from having to debate and vote on bills that could have politically damaging effects.

For decades Congress has held open debates on the summer appropriations bills, allowing even the most junior members to submit amendments on the floor for an up-or-down vote by the House – a custom that Democrats defended during their years as the minority. However Democratic leadership has abrogated the practice in Congress as debate slows down the fast pace of legislation ordered by the Obama Administration. The practice has angered Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat and Co-Chairman of the Pro-life Caucus, who accused his party's leadership of trying to muzzle the voices of pro-life Democrats as well as Republicans in the House.

Before the vote on the appropriations bill, the House voted 216-213 on House Res. 644, which excluded the Tiahrt/Davis amendment banning the public funding of abortion in D.C. from the list of amendments which the full House could consider.