Washington, D.C. Fights For Abortion Legalization


There is no guarantee, but the weather’s supposed to be fine when the Women’s March kicks off Saturday morning at Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington. And I certainly don’t know how many participants will be on hand. But I can promise that the city’s official welcome will be warm and gracious, and all rights, including reproductive, will be respected every second that marchers set foot in our city.Get the full experience.

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Would that be true elsewhere in America?

The driving distance between Washington and Texas, home of the country’s most extreme abortion law, is about 1,400 miles. But our nation’s capital and the state of Texas are more than worlds apart on women’s rights.Right-wing politicians in the Lone Star State don’t feel bound by the U.S. Constitution when it comes to restricting the ability of women to make decisions about their lives.Story continues below advertisement

Fortunately, the U.S. Constitution has standing in the District of Columbia.

Speaking not only for himself but also on behalf of the city’s leaders, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) sent a message ahead of the rally that the District values reproductive rights: “We are open for care to those who live here and those traveling from other states.”

“Laws stripping patients of their rights, like the Texas abortion ban,” said Racine, “do not apply to patients getting care here or to anyone in the District helping patients get care.” And he added his voice to a coalition of 24 state attorneys general in calling for Texas’s unconstitutional law to be overturned.Story continues below advertisement

March participants should know that their host city isn’t a novice in the fight for reproductive rights. Texans have their state legislature in Austin. D.C. residents have congressional overseers on Capitol Hill. But, after years of dueling with Congress, the decision to have a baby or an abortion is still the right of every woman in D.C.

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But, Congress still gets a word in. By congressional edict, the District is prohibited from providing public funding for abortion for women eligible for publicly funded medical assistance unless the procedure is necessary to preserve their lives or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Private funding, however, is generally available.

Yet even with that, city lawmakers, and the District’s congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), must watch like hawks as anti-choice House and Senate vultures circle and look for chances to land a strike against reproductive health care in the city.Story continues below advertisement

And just so Saturday’s marchers know, we in the District know what it’s like to come under fire in the war over a woman’s right to choose.

Around the time of my service as a member of the Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington’s board of directors, the Hillcrest Women’s Surgi-Center clinic in upper Georgia Avenue NW was bombed on New Year’s Day in 1985.

Washington can be counted on to do its best to afford rally participants with a safe space to march for abortion justice. I cannot speak for participants in the “sister marches” that are scheduled to take place across the country. But in this city, you won’t feel isolated “in your values or politics or beliefs,” as one past march participant put it. The city will officially be there, and in solidarity.Story continues below advertisement

That’s critically important. Cities and towns from coast to coast must join hands because this fifth-annual Women’s March comes at a pivotal moment in the struggle for abortion access. Anti-choice states are poised to follow Texas’s lead. In December, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that challenges Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to have an abortion in the United States.

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Saturday marks more than a stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Supreme Court. It is a march to call public attention to the rise of existential threats to the autonomy of a woman’s body.

Can’t promise what the weather will be like. But if the spirit fueling the protest march is on hand, Freedom Plaza, no matter the numbers, is the place to be — in mind or body.

Because the challenge, the struggle, the time, is now.

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