D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and several other women were arrested Wednesday evening when they blocked Constitution Avenue a short time after the House of Representatives voted to permanently ban the District’s use of tax dollars to pay for abortions for low-income residents. Cheh was released about 11 p.m.
The arrests occurred after several prominent District women, including Council members Yvette D. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Maudine Cooper, president of the Greater Washington Urban League, and Patrice Sulton of the DC NAACP, held a rally at Upper Senate Park next to the U.S. Capitol in support of District autonomy.
After a series of speakers blasted Congress for meddling and undermining Home Rule in the city, After the speeches, she grabbed the microphone and told the crowd “it’s time to take it to the streets.”
“Its time to show we are not going to be humiliated,” Cheh said. “We are not going to crouch.Who is going to stand with me for freedom?”
Cheh and about a two dozen others then stepped into Constitution Avenue, blocking frustrated motorists suddenly stuck on the hill leading to the Russell Senate Office Building.
Within minutes, about two dozen Capitol Police officers surrounded the protesters.
A police supervisor then issued two warnings for Cheh and the protesters to leave the street or face arrest. As the arrests took place, others lined the sidewalk, chanting “Free DC” and the “People united will not be defeated.”
A police sergeant was unable to immediately say how many people were taken into custody, but estimated “seven or eight.”
They were transported to Capitol police headquarters on D Street NE.
Cheh’s arrest comes less than a month after the high-profile arrest of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and six council members during a similar demonstration.
That protest, which led to 41 arrests, followed the budget agreement between President Obama and Congressional leaders that restricts the District from using local tax dollars for abortion services for the rest of the year. The deal also extended a school-voucher program backed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) but opposed by Gray and others in the city.
Gray and most of those arrested on April 11 paid a $50 fine for a misdemeanor violation of unlawful assembly. But 15 of them refused to pay, and will appear in court Thursday morning. Several of them, including Eugene Kinlow of DC Vote, are expected to plead not guilty and stand trial.
“We are going to extend the process and test the limits of justice,” Kinlow said. “There will be a number of people who will continue to test the limits of democracy.”
District leaders noted that 17 states use local funds for some abortion services. The House bill approved Wednesday — on a 251-175 vote — would permanently bar the District from paying for abortions for low-income women. The Senate Democratic leaders don’t intend to bring the measure up for a stand-alone vote in their chamber.
The District leaders and others who gathered near the Capitol Wednesday night stressed their efforts were not only about abortion rights. Instead, they said, Congress is disrespecting the city by not allowing local elected officials to govern free of interference.
Although she did not get arrested Wednesday night, Alexander called on Gray to “shut this city down” to protest the city’s lack of representation.
“Let’s block every border,” Alexander said. “The Capitol Police can’t arrest all 600,000 of us.”
“We have been disrespected for the last time,” Bowser said.
Next Wednesday, several leaders of the city’s civil rights community plan to hold a similar protest.
Staff writer Ben Pershing contributed to this report.