At a time when we're pulling out our hair over the problem of teen-age pregnancy and the nation's highest infant mortality rate, the House of Representatives has done it again. Last week, it voted to prohibit the District government from using its own revenues to pay for abortions for poor women.
If the House has its way, hundreds of poor women won't have the choice of being able to terminate unwanted pregnancies.
How dare these legislators, who do not call this city home and who do not care about its residents, take this kind of callous action and threaten some of our city's most vulnerable citizens? It's a frustrating reminder of how voiceless and powerless local taxpayers are. The measure is different from other restrictions against the use of federal funds to pay for abortions because it mandates that even funds raised locally by the District government could not be used.
How would Rep. Robert Dornan (R-Calif.), who introduced the amendment, like it if someone told the residents of his wealthy, conservative district in Orange County that they could not use their own revenues the way they wanted? Yet his measure tells this city that we can't use our own locally generated revenues the way we desire -- namely to pay for abortions for poor women.
For some members of Congress, it's just a cheap vote for the right-to-life lobby back home. And it's enough to make persons who are working to provide a choice for women throw up their hands in disgust.
"It's outrageous," said Rosann Wisman, president of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington. "As usual this kind of callous decision really harms people who have no other resources."
According to Jeannie Rosoff, president of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a family planning organization, passage of this amendment would mean that a substantial number of women would postpone seeking an abortion until the second trimester as they sought to save up enough money for the procedure. Then, she said, an abortion is not only more complex but also more expensive.
I wonder if, in the 10 short minutes it took the House to bar the city from funding abortions, any member took a single second to think of how the decision would affect women? Women could return to back-alley abortions. They could be forced to give birth to children who are unwanted. They could once again become the prisoners of their own bodies.
Of course, we all know who would bear the brunt of their decision if it is not stopped in the Senate. Women with wealth or resources have available the full range of choices in obtaining an abortion. And while we pay lip service to the plight of poor women and children, the House has taken an action whose effect would be to enshrine the poor even deeper in poverty. It once again points out that those who lack resources also lack choices.
In this city, the majority of those who would be affected are black. Therefore, it's ironic that this action took place just days after the Census Bureau reported on the deep disparities in wealth between blacks and whites. Whites have almost 12 times more assets than blacks, and much of the gap is accounted for by the large proportion of black households headed by women. It is precisely this population that the city is trying to help and that the House action would harm.
Indeed, the District has historically been a leader in providing justice for poor women. Now Congress would take that distinction away from us. It's enough to make you wonder if some of these members of Congress don't secretly enjoy driving around Washington late at night and laughing at the suffering of the poor.
Because a similar amendment was passed last year -- which city officials and other activists fought hard and defeated -- it is certain that they will again battle this shameful encroachment on home rule. But having to fight this bizarre ritualistic House action is a disgraceful waste of energy and resources that are needed elsewhere. Often, when I run into a problem, I feel that it is my duty to report it. In cases like this, I think it is my responsibility to help develop a strategy to help fight the issue. I hope activists generate tons of letters from prochoice advocates in the metropolitan area and around the country, even targeting specific House members who voted for this amendment. In that way they can defeat or defer the House action.
For in the end we must not only ensure justice for poor women but also maintain the integrity of home rule. If amendments like this are allowed to stand, the District will never be the 51st state, but the 51st stump.