In two days, Americans will gather around bonfires and barbeques to celebrate Independence Day, the day our nation’s founders declared their freedom from a government that had grown oppressive and tyrannical—a government that sought to impose its will on an unwilling people, to tax them without representation, and that refused to allow the local jurisdictions to pass laws which they saw fit to ensure the safety and happiness of their inhabitants.
Sound familiar? It does if you’re a woman living in Washington, D.C., where access to affordable abortion is blocked by a legislature in which we don’t even have a vote.
Perhaps nowhere is the 4th of July more poignant than here in D.C., where the symbols of American democracy loom large in marble and granite, and the stars and stripes seems to fly from every corner. At the same time, the pageantry of democracy drips with irony, since women in D.C. are deprived the basic rights of representation and self-determination.
As Latinas who moved to D.C. to do reproductive justice work, it’s more than a little upsetting that leaving our home states of California and Maryland meant losing 1) a voting representative in the House, 2) two voting representatives in the Senate, and 3) state-funded abortion coverage through the Medicaid program. Unfortunately, we also gained 535 Congressional overseers, some of whom seek to exploit this power by passing politically loaded legislation that does nothing to represent the wishes of D.C. residents. Add to that the high rents and swampy summers, and even D.C.’s legendary food trucks and beautiful parks might not balance the scales in the city’s favor.
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But we’re not giving up. We know that the women of D.C. deserve better than to have our decisions made for us by anti-choice politicians, and that D.C.’s local government deserves better than to constantly have local policies usurped by a meddling Congress.
This problem starts with the Hyde Amendment. Because of the Hyde Amendment’s near-total ban on abortion coverage through the federal Medicaid program, states are forced to choose between kicking in state funds to cover women struggling to make ends meet, or leaving those women in a lurch. Presently, 15 states extend coverage for abortion services to low-income women, and all 50 states have the option to do so.
Unfortunately, D.C.’s decision to do the same is overseen by Congress through the appropriations process, and Congress routinely overrules D.C.’s own elected officials—withholding abortion coverage from women in D.C. Denying D.C. officials the ability to decide whether to provide health coverage for abortion with its own local funds conflicts with the intent and purpose of “D.C. home rule,” the federal doctrine that allows D.C. officials to govern without constant political interference. Moreover, these restrictions primarily affect women of color in D.C., who are more likely to be low-income and receive their health coverage from the government.
However we feel about abortion, politicians shouldn’t be allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage just because of how much she makes or her Zip code. A woman struggling to make ends meet should be able to make personal health decisions without political interference, regardless of whether she lives in Detroit, Denver, or D.C.
Make no mistake—the reality is that some politicians want to ban all abortion, for all women, in every state. Since they can’t quite do that (though they’re trying), instead they deny Medicaid coverage to women in D.C. just to make abortion unaffordable and therefore harder to access.
Every woman, whether she gets her insurance through Medicaid, the military, her employer, or her partner’s employer, should have coverage for the full range of pregnancy-related care, including abortion, so she can make personal health decisions based on what is best for her and her family. This is a fundamental human right, and D.C. women deserve no less.
So this July 4th, as you watch the fireworks from your hometown, please remember us, the women of D.C. Please remember that those who seek to deny abortion coverage and access for us would happily do the same to you if given the chance. We are all in this together. We are all D.C. Will you stand with us and tell Congress that we reject these cruel attacks on abortion coverage for low-income women?
Not in D.C. Not anywhere.