Their constituents no doubt hear their proclamations during town hall meetings, ribbon cuttings, and every-other-year campaign events. At home in their districts, you can imagine hearing, “our democracy is strong because it reflects the interests of the people! Our government in Washington is responsive and accountable to you!”
What these members of Congress do not say out loud is: “unless you are an African American or Latina woman, qualified and enrolled in Medicaid, living in the District of Columbia,” - in that case the rules are different.
For a woman living in D.C. struggling to get by and considering ending a pregnancy, then it’s not about her being able to make the decision that is best for her and her family. It’s not about her being able to access all possible options so she can best guarantee her health, safety, and dignity.
Every year, Congress passes the Hyde Amendment and withholds federal funding for insurance coverage of abortion for low-income women. Thankfully, each of the fifty states can decide to use state funds to cover this important care—but things work differently in the District of Columbia.
Even though the District, with its more than 600,000 residents, is supposed to have home rule, Congress prevents D.C.’s locally elected officials from making internal decisions about how to spend their health care funds.
And so in the national political struggle over abortion, those in Congress frustrated by their inability to limit every woman’s personal health care decisions have made an example of women in the District of Columbia by denying them Medicaid coverage for abortion services. It doesn’t matter that D.C. officials and residents have fought to cover these services.
It’s the worst kind of governance, playing politics with something as important as a woman’s personal decision-making.
Just as disturbing as politicians’ willingness to interfere in our personal decision-making is the disproportionate impact on women of color. In fact, a whopping 94 percent of Washingtonians who are affected by the Congressional ban on abortion coverage are people of color.
In his recent budget, President Obama showed his commitment to ending the District of Columbia’s abortion ban. It’s now up to Congress to act. Our optimism mostly lies in the Senate, as the House Appropriations Committee this week voted down an amendment to remove the ban. Hopefully this year, we can put national politics aside, focus on the best interests of the low-income women in the District of Columbia and bring an end to the D.C. Medicaid abortion ban.
Living in our nation’s capital should mean that a woman can have access to what she needs for critical pregnancy-related health care, however much money she makes. We must stand with D.C. women and demand a government that is accountable and responsive.
It’s time for politicians in Congress to bring their lofty promises of freedom, and democracy, and human dignity beyond the marble halls of Congress and into the communities outside.
That’s a principle we should all be able to embrace.
González-Rojas is executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health http://latinainstitute.org/about/staff/jessica-gonzalez-rojas, and Hoyt is president and CEO of the Black Women's Health Imperative http://www.blackwomenshealth.org/staff-and-board-members/ceo/eleanor-nbs...