What the End of Roe v. Wade Could Mean for the Mainland Colony of the District of Columbia

It could be really bad (boldface mine):

Despite being a Democratic city where abortion rights have long been protected and promoted, the revelation of the draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade shocked elected officials — largely because any final decision on whether abortion remains legal in the city might not be up to them.

While the court’s apparent opinion would devolve any decision-making over abortion to the states, D.C. remains under the control of Congress — and over the decades Republicans on Capitol Hill have repeatedly targeted how abortions are provided and paid for in the city.

Their longest-running tool has been a budget rider that prohibits the city from using its own money to subsidize abortions for low-income women. (In the late 1980s, it even prevented D.C. from paying for an abortion for a 12-year-old ward of the city who had been raped and impregnated by a cousin.) In the mid-90s some Republicans went further, proposing a ban on any abortions in city-funded hospitals or medical centers. And in 2012, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) unsuccessfully pushed for a budget provision that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks — but only in D.C.

Many of the Republicans’ efforts were largely constrained by Roe or Democratic majorities in either the House or Senate, but D.C. Councilmember Christina Henderson (I-At Large) worries what will happen to the city’s abortion rights if both of those change.

“We have [our own] protections in place. We have updated our human rights laws and rules on reproductive decision-making. I have a bill that’s pending right now to provide some additional enhancements as it pertains to self-managed abortions,” she told DCist/WAMU. “And then I thought, ‘Man, if Republicans take back Congress. They will use the District as their petri dish yet again.’ They will they will attempt to go further than just saying, ‘You can’t spend local funds on abortion.’”

Henderson says one remaining protection is that President Joe Biden remains in the White House, but she also noted that in the past Democrats have agreed to allow the existing budget rider on D.C. abortion spending remain in place.

“Past is prologue,” she said. “D.C. has been used as a bargaining chip and they’ve given us away for less. I think that this is a rallying call to my friends in other states, especially states who have senators on the ballot. Today is the day to plug in, folks, because this is not just about you. This really has implications for what happens in the nation’s capital.”

In a tweet, Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) tied the city’s fight for statehood to the likely coming fight over the city’s abortion laws. “A lack of statehood not only meant we had no vote on these Supreme Court justices, but the members that put them in could change our local laws,” he wrote.

A bill to give D.C. statehood was twice-passed by the House, but remains stalled in the Senate.

Remember, in 2011, President Obama traded away public funding for abortion in D.C.—funded with D.C.’s own local tax dollars, not federal money—in a deal with Republican House Speaker John Boehner (“John, I’ll give you abortion in D.C.“), so we can’t count on national Democrats to protect us. As Henderson notes, we are always an expendable bargaining chip.

For anyone who has ever said that voting doesn’t matter, try living in a system where you are governed by those who are utterly unaccountable to you in any way.

It’s time for D.C. statehood. Well past time.

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