women's health

Abortion protections in Washington remain a priority

Despite shifts in the country’s laws surrounding abortion, D.C. City Council has drafted protections for women who seek the procedure and other reproductive services.

While some states are enforcing strict anti-abortion laws, the D.C. City Council is moving ahead with plans to protect the reproductive rights of local women.

The Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019, or Bill 23-434, aims to prohibit the District government from interfering with reproductive health decisions and punishing women who self-manage abortions, miscarriages, or other pregnancy complications.

In early March, all 13 council members unanimously voted to approve the bill just five days after the United States Supreme Court heard its first abortion argument since the appointment of conservative justice Brett Kavanaugh, who has been speculated to overturn the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade.

“We wanted to actively protect a woman’s right to choose in the District of Columbia and to make it more difficult for opponents to come in and interfere with a woman’s private choice between her and her doctor,” said Grosso.

Councilman David Grosso (I) introduced Bill 23-434 late last year in response to states banning abortion and restricting reproductive health decisions for women, especially those in marginalized communities.

“We need to respect that decision, just like we would every other human right,” said Grosso. “We know healthcare is a human right, and we believe that abortion is a really important part of healthcare therefore, we think that abortion is also a human right.”

However, reproductive rights look different for black women living in Wards 7 and 8, the city’s poorest divisions.

Efforts to make abortion more accessible and affordable in the city have been met local support and federal resistance.

“We have had a ban in D.C. on spending federal or local dollars on abortion support,” said Grosso.

Because D.C. lacks home rule, all of their laws must be sent to Congress for final say. Abortion access has been limited by Congress in the District, and every abortion law that has been passed in the city has been met with some form of federal pushback, according to Grosso.

Due to the ban, poor women in the city must rely on private medical providers or Planned Parenthood for abortion services. If they can’t afford those, they can take advantage of the D.C. Abortion Fund, or DCAF, a non-profit organization that makes grants to pregnant women who cannot afford procedures.

According to Grosso, most people in other jurisdictions can rely on Medicaid to pay for abortion services but for poor women living here, “you can’t rely on the government to support you because we’re prohibited,” said Grosso.

Anti-abortion laws disproportionately impact poor black women and protecting reproductive healthcare will affect other areas of their lives, according to advocates at the #MyRightMyDecision Rally outside the Supreme Court on March 4.

In attendance at the really was 36-year-old Tamara Robinson with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in D.C.

“My hope is that the justices will consider the millions of black women in Louisiana, because it’s like they will consider the millions of black women around the country, too,” said Robinson.

In June Medical Services v. Russo, the Court will decide if a Louisiana law requiring physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital within thirty miles of an abortion clinic should stand.

“I am here to advocate on behalf of black women in the city,” said Jocelyn Anderson, a 34-year-old D.C. native. “As a nurse and researcher, it’s important to be here. I’m not going to sit back and let the minority decide the fate.”

Anderson was also at the rally to celebrate her birthday.

“The impacts of maternal mortality and abortion restrictions are closely related,” wrote Racine Tucker-Hamilton, the vice president for the National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda in the organization’s blog post. “Women who were denied an abortion and then gave birth report worse health outcomes up to five years later as compared to women who received an abortion.”

Tucker-Hamilton was also at the March 4 rally and spoke to the crowd saying she wanted the justices to “trust black women and know that restrictions will always impacts us in a negative way.”

According to Grosso, the bill has been signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser into law and is now under Congressional review.

The council members hope the law will be enacted by mid-May 2020.

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