A House committee is currently considering an appropriations bill for the next fiscal year — but if Republican lawmakers have their way, the general spending measure will also have some serious consequences for DC women seeking reproductive care. House Republicans have tacked on an abortion-related rider to the legislation that will prevent the District of Columbia from extending abortion coverage to the low-income women in its Medicaid program.
Under the Hyde Amendment, federal Medicaid dollars are currently prohibited from going toward low-income women’s abortion services. States can decide how to handle insurance coverage for abortion in their own Medicaid programs, and 17 of them have decided to lift that abortion ban. But, since Washington, DC doesn’t have statehood — which means that its budget has historically been subject to Congress’ whims — its own Medicaid program has become somewhat of a political football each year. Republican lawmakers have repeatedly used appropriations riders to strip DC’s ability to cover low-income women’s abortion care through its own Medicaid program.
President Obama’s own FY2014 budget, released in April, removed that abortion coverage ban for DC’s low-income women. But on Wednesday, a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee added it to theirs.
Women’s health advocates have pushed for home rule for DC so that Republicans will no longer be able to impose their anti-choice agenda on the nation’s capital. They point out that preventing DC from offering Medicaid coverage for abortion ultimately hurts the city’s most vulnerable women, particularly women of color. Since the poverty rate in the nation’s capital is estimated to be the third worst in the nation, right behind Mississippi and Louisiana, many DC women can’t afford reproductive care when they are forced to pay for abortion procedures out-of-pocket.
“Dozens of women call us each day asking for help to pay for abortion care because Medicaid cannot pay for it,” the president of the DC Abortion Fund, Val Vilott, told RH Reality Check. “The DC Medicaid ban is shameful; women in the District are just as deserving of access to health care as women anywhere else in the country.”
Last week, a coalition of over 50 groups — including Catholics for Choice, DC Vote, and Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington — sent a letter to Congress asking lawmakers to avoid inserting DC-related riders to the appropriations bill that will “unjustly interfere” in the city’s own affairs. “Congress does not impose its views on any other local jurisdiction,” the letter pointed out. “We expect Congress to be consistent by letting District residents manage their own affairs without interference or meddling.”
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), who does not have a floor vote, has pledged to fight to remove the abortion-related rider before the spending bill wins final approval.