OP-ED: DC statehood is necessary to fully secure right for women to choose
By Karl A. Racine
Attorney General for the District of Columbia
Op-ed originally appeared in The Hill
The fundamental right of a woman to choose her reproductive future is more vulnerable than ever due to appointments of conservative judges to the Supreme Court and coordinated efforts to curtail abortion access by certain states. Thankfully, people are fighting back in the courts, at the ballot box, and across the country. States are passing laws to protect abortion rights, while activists seek state constitutional amendments to ensure women are protected in the event Roe versus Wade is overturned.
For the District of Columbia, our ability to protect the fundamental rights of our residents faces unique obstacles. Our residents suffer an unequal impact of federal efforts to restrict access to abortion because we are not a state. Without statehood, the District of Columbia cannot fully enshrine these fundamental rights within a state constitution and is therefore left fighting to protect the right to choose with burdensome federal oversight.
For decades now, states have passed laws that chip away at the right to choose. These laws require duplicative visits to the doctor and forced ultrasounds or create onerous requirements with the effect of forcing abortion providers to close their doors. These burdens deprive women of the right to make their own reproductive choices through the purposeful targeting and limiting access to abortion and other reproductive services.
Distressingly, these burdens are shouldered disproportionately by women of color and women with low incomes who already face worse reproductive health outcomes than their peers. Many women lack the financial means and work flexibility necessary to satisfy these punishing requirements. For women of color, who already have higher mortality rates during pregnancy than their white peers, any curtailed abortion access puts them at greater risk of injury and quite possibly even death.
These efforts have turned into a frontal assault on the fundamental right to obtain an abortion. Ohio, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Missouri have passed new laws banning abortion as early as six to eight weeks into pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant. Alabama has gone even further, banning abortion outright, without an exception for incest or rape. In some of these states, women and their doctors can now be criminally prosecuted for obtaining or performing an abortion.
While these laws clearly contravene Roe, legislators have expressed their objective openly of persuading the Supreme Court to overturn it. In the District of Columbia, our limited home rule status renders us vulnerable to interference by Congress, especially on important social issues that states are accorded deference to under the concept of federalism. Congress has already acted to restrict abortion access in the entire United States, and residents of the District of Columbia are disproportionately affected by it.
Not only does the Hyde Amendment prevent federal funding through Medicaid to cover most abortions, but Congress has regularly used the budget rider procedure to prohibit the District of Columbia from using its local funds to support underprivileged women seeking abortions since 1989. If Roe is overturned, Congress could pass local abortion restrictions, or even bans, in the District of Columbia with impunity. Again, without statehood, the District of Columbia cannot enshrine the right to choose for our residents in a state constitution, in accordance with our values.
The mounting national assault on the right of a woman to choose provides yet another urgent reason why we all must fight for statehood on Capitol Hill, around the country, and in the streets. We must continue to mobilize and demonstrate in states where abortion access is threatened. Here at home, the District of Columbia must be granted statehood in order to protect the fundamental rights of our residents much more effectively.