In the nearly 50 years since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, the reproductive rights movement has shifted our advocacy from legality to access. Simply put, a right isn’t a right if you cannot access it.

While 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 a right in name only. It’s why changes like the law Maine passed two years ago requiring public and private insurance that cover pre-natal care to also cover abortion care are so critical.

We aren’t the only ones working to address this particular barrier. Fifteen other states and the District of Columbia have passed laws ensuring people with Medicaid coverage can use their insurance for abortion care. But because D.C. policies are subject to Congressional review, they are routinely stonewalled or overturned.

Every year, Congress passes annual legislation prohibiting D.C. from providing insurance coverage for abortion in its Medicaid program while all 50 states are free to do as they wish.

In practical terms, this means despite what their elected officials do, the people of D.C. routinely have their reproductive rights limited by Congress.

This lack of autonomy and self-determination for the people of D.C. has grave consequences. As one example, D.C. has the fifth worst overall Black maternal mortality rate in the country — maternal mortality in D.C. is worse than in Syria.

Nearly half of the people in D.C. are Black. We know that because of 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 D.C. from allowing people with Medicaid to use their insurance coverage for safe, legal abortion care, even when their elected representatives vote in favor of this coverage.

It’s important to recognize this history because we cannot address the disparities in reproductive health care we see today without understanding the history of mistreatment Black people have faced by our governments and medical systems.

From the U.S. Constitution which permitted the enslavement of Black people and valued them at only three-fifths of the value of a white person to the ongoing fight for full voting rights, Black people have not had full representation in governing bodies. The second-class status of D.C. residents perpetuates the denial of Black people’s rights to self-determination.

One of Planned Parenthood’s core values is that individuals should have the agency to make decisions themselves, whether they are seeking medical care or exercising their right to vote.

For these reasons, we are proud to support our colleagues in D.C. in their campaign for D.C. statehood.

The people of D.C. have been fighting 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, the increased attacks on abortion rights and voting rights particularly against communities of color, or a combination thereof, more people are joining their fellow Americans in D.C. in their appeal for statehood.

The disenfranchisement of D.C. residents is a reproductive health and civil rights crisis. The policing and controlling of Black people and their bodies, while part of our government’s history, should not be normal and it is not just.

There is no good reason why more than 700,000 Americans are denied their rights to democratic representation. It’s unacceptable for a governing body to overrule decisions made by D.C. residents’ elected representatives – even more so when the people of D.C. have no voting members in Congress. D.C statehood begins to right these wrongs.

Last month, the U.S. House voted in favor of D.C. statehood and both U.S. Reps Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden voted yes. We thank them for their leadership.

It’s time for the U.S. Senate to join their colleagues in the House and end the suppression of D.C. residents’ rights.

— Special to the Press Herald

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