In the nearly 50 years since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, the reproductive rights movement shifted our advocacy from legality to access. Simply put, a right is not a right if you cannot access it.
Although abortion remains legal in all 50 states, barriers such as forced delays, lack of providers in your community, and denials of insurance coverage mean that for many people, the right to a safe and legal abortion. is just a name right. That’s why changes like the Maine law passed two years ago requiring public and private insurance covering prenatal care to also cover abortion care are so critical.
We are not the only ones working to overcome this particular hurdle. Fifteen other states and the District of Columbia have passed laws ensuring that people covered by Medicaid can use their insurance for abortion care. But because DC’s policies are subject to congressional scrutiny, they are routinely blocked or rescinded.
Each year Congress passes annual legislation prohibiting DC from providing insurance coverage for abortion in its Medicaid program while all 50 states are free to do as they wish.
Concretely, this means that despite what their elected officials do, the people of DC regularly see their reproductive rights limited by Congress.
This lack of autonomy and self-determination for the people of DC has serious consequences. As an example, DC has the fifth worst overall black maternal mortality rate in the country – maternal mortality in Washington is worse than in Syria.
Almost half of DC’s residents are black. We know that due to systemic racism and discrimination, black people face more barriers to health care, including reproductive health care. People of color are disproportionately likely to have Medicaid and therefore be harmed by Congress repeatedly preventing DC from allowing people on Medicaid to use their insurance coverage for safe and legal abortion care, even when their elected representatives vote in favor of this coverage.
It is important to recognize this history because we cannot address the disparities in reproductive health care that we see today without understanding the history of abuse that blacks have faced by our governments and medical systems.
From the U.S. Constitution which permitted the enslavement of blacks and only valued them three-fifths of a white person’s worth, to the ongoing struggle for full suffrage, blacks have not been fully represented in governing bodies. The second-class status of DC residents perpetuates the denial of black rights to self-determination.
One of the core values of Planned Parenthood is that individuals should have the power to make decisions for themselves, whether they seek medical care or exercise their right to vote.
For these reasons, we are proud to support our DC colleagues in their campaign for DC statehood.
The people of DC have fought for their rights for years. Whether it is the protests following the murder of George Floyd, the disproportionate impact of the COVID pandemic on people of color, increased attacks on the right to abortion and the right to vote in particular Against communities of color, or a combination of them, more and more people are joining their peers. Americans in Washington in their call for independence.
The denial of civil rights for DC residents is a reproductive health and civil rights crisis. Maintaining order and control over black people and their bodies, while part of our government’s history, should not be normal and it is not fair.
There is no good reason why over 700,000 Americans are denied their right to democratic representation. It is unacceptable for a governing body to overrule decisions made by elected representatives of DC residents, especially when DC residents do not have voting members in Congress. The state of DC is beginning to right these wrongs.
Last month, the US House voted in favor of DC statehood, and US Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden voted yes. We thank them for their leadership.
It is time for the United States Senate to join with its colleagues in the House in ending the suppression of rights for DC residents.
– Special to the Press Herald