This post is personal. I’m still reeling from the leaked draft Supreme Court decision indicating the Court will overturn Roe v. Wade — ending federal protection for abortion. Abortion is healthcare, and we must continually work to expand and protect abortion rights.
I’ve had an abortion. I also have three children, and each pregnancy and birth was a reminder of the intense physical and health impacts. All have reaffirmed to me how we fail to support people who need abortion care or have children. My job and family support proved crucial to having stability and being able to make my appointments when I was pregnant. The quality of health care I received was essential to address my anemia and other health conditions. I was only able to travel to get my abortion with the support of my family. It is all a constant reminder of how inequities run deep in our system and how we must do so much more to support and center people who do not have the same resources I have had.
What’s at Stake
Let’s start with a few basic points.
Abortion. The word is abortion, and abortion is healthcare. Too often we see politicians talk about reproductive rights and fail to mention the word abortion. Instead, they refer to “public health,” “access,” “choice,” and “reproductive health care.” We need full-throated support for abortion rights, and failure to say the word abortion signals moral and positional wiggle room and adds stigma.
I have had an abortion, and I choose to speak publicly about my abortion to reduce stigma and shame. I was afraid to share my story, and I faced the expected shaming on social media from those who oppose abortion rights. But, people have also thanked me and told me that they feel safer knowing that people are speaking publicly about their abortions.
I honor the experiences of other women (including women in public service) who have shared their stories, including Democratic representatives Cori Bush (Missouri), Pramila Jayapal (Washington), and Barbara Lee (California).
DC’s lack of statehood puts us at increased risk. Congressional threats to abortion rights are not new. Congress has prohibited DC from using local funds to pay for abortions for Medicaid recipients since 1989 (for all but two years). The “Dornan Amendment” specifically limits lower-income DC residents from full access to abortions, including forcing these residents to fundraise for their abortions. Abortion rights have been been relegated to a secondary issue in our fight for statehood and local control, and our leaders who regularly advocate for local control on marijuana legalization are content with a status quo on abortion that disproportionately harms low-income people of color.
Republicans in Congress have and will continue to seek to limit abortion rights in DC. Senator Ted Cruz (Texas) has led failed efforts to strike down a 2014 DC law protecting people from employment discrimination based on reproductive health decisions like having an abortion. And a republican Representative introduced a failed bill that sought to ban abortion after 20 weeks in DC. Vigilance and persistence are essential to not just fend off these challenges, but to work meaningfully across jurisdictions to expand and protect abortion rights.
Abortion rights are intimately tied to how we view women and birthing people, including everything from maternal care to paid leave to childcare to living wages. We know that DC has some of the worst maternal outcomes, with Black people making up 90% of birth-related deaths. We also know that Black women and families face the largest disparities in terms of access to childcare and good-paying jobs.
I often talk about how every map of DC is the same, whether we are talking about maternal healthcare, access to healthy food, housing stability, high-quality education, or community safety, and that this map is the result of chronic disinvestment in communities east of the Anacostia River. Here, Congress is compounding existing disparities, making it harder for lower-income DC residents to access abortion services.
These deeply-rooted disparities are important to recognize and grapple with as we work to expand and protect rights locally. That’s part of why I continually talk about meeting people’s basic needs as rights and meaningfully using our budget, laws, and oversight to correct for longstanding disparities.
Women Lead the Way
We must take every action — at the federal and local level — to expand and protect abortion rights.
Thank you to our Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau and our At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson for pushing and calling for abortion protections through local legislation. Councilmember Nadeau has introduced a bill that would prohibit DC officials from cooperating in any investigation by another state into a person who gets, assists with, or performs an abortion in DC. And Councilmember Henderson has introduced a bill to enhance protections for people who assist someone with a self-managed abortion. I firmly and unequivocally support these bills and additional efforts to protect and expand abortion rights in DC.
We know that continually pushing for DC statehood is essential to protecting and expanding abortion rights in DC. We can also work with our federal allies to eliminate the Dornan Amendment and allow DC to spend local funds on abortion care, as well as to create meaningful coalitions to push back against Republicans in Congress.
Locally, we can continue to work with and learn from other states that are taking measures to protect and expand abortion rights (like Councilmember Nadeau did with her proposed legislation). My DC Council Accountability Plan would empower the Council to do that more through a comprehensive, nonpartisan, and objective research service to assist the Council in crafting legislative solutions to DC’s challenges, including robust consideration of best practices across jurisdictions.
I recognize our struggle as a uniquely difficult one. Unlike most jurisdictions, without statehood we are always at risk of losing our rights. We have to be dedicated and consistent at our local level in fighting for our rights — including our right to have an abortion. My dedication is both personal and professional — knowing that my common personal experience will place these fights at the heart of my work on the DC Council.