Women’s Health Advocates Push For DC Budget Autonomy To Prevent Unwelcome Abortion Restrictions

DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D)

A coalition of reproductive rights groups joined DC Mayor Vince Gray (D) and DC Delegate Elanor Holmes Norton (D) at a press conference on Tuesday to push for budget autonomy for the nation’s capital city. Until the District of Columbia has the power to control its own budget, they say that DC’s women will continue to be burdened with abortion restrictions imposed by Republicans who don’t actually represent them in Congress.

Since DC’s budget currently has to be approved by Congress, other legislators can either block the city’s initiatives or force through unrelated riders. Those fights often center on women’s health issues. Last year, an appropriations provision blocked DC from covering low-income women’s abortion care with its Medicaid dollars.

At Tuesday’s press conference, women’s health advocates — including representatives from Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the National Abortion Federation, the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice — pointed out that denying DC the ability to offer Medicaid coverage for abortion ultimately hurts the city’s most vulnerable women. The poverty rate in the nation’s capital is the third worst in the nation, behind Mississippi and Louisiana.

“This policy creates obstacles to care for low-income women, many of whom are women of color, who already face significant barriers to receiving high-quality care,” Susannah Baruch, the interim president of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, explained in a statement. “However we feel about abortion, we shouldn’t deny a woman in DC the health coverage she needs just because she’s poor.”

“Politicians don’t belong in a woman’s personal medical decisions just as they don’t belong in DC spending decisions,” Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president, pointed out. The rest of the country agrees with her. According to a 2012 poll, 78 percent of Americans don’t think Congress should be able to impose social policy riders on DC’s budget that interfere with the city’s local affairs.

Nevertheless, congressmembers haven’t taken kindly to the idea of home-rule in DC. Last month, a Florida Republican dismissed DC’s push for budget autonomy as an act of teenage rebellion. “Well, when my kids were young teenagers, they always wanted budget autonomy too,” Rep. Rep. John Mica (R-FL) said.

DC voters passed a budget autonomy referendum in a special election last month. As long as congressmembers like Mica don’t step in to intervene, it will become law on July 10th.