D.C.-area officials are moving to support local abortion clinics with funding and more leeway ahead of what is expected to be a surge in demand for the procedure following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Some localities are relaxing zoning requirements for new abortion clinics. Others are offering grants to facilities likely to be inundated with out-of-state patients — especially those with lower incomes — and vowing that their jurisdictions will not cooperate in any investigations involving people who have arrived for an abortion from states with antiabortion laws.
“If they think that they can extend their reduction of women’s rights to neighboring states, they’re seriously wrong,” Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said last week after urging the County Council to allocate an extra $1 million toward reproductive health services.
The reaction from local officials reflects the volatile emotions that have spread across the country since the Supreme Court ruling last week, prompting new public policy debates around a divisive issue that had been settled law for nearly 50 years.
District Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said the Supreme Court decision posed a “unique risk” to the federally controlled city, warning that a Republican takeover of Congress next year could lead to new restrictions. In the meantime, the D.C. Council is considering several measures aimed at enhancing abortion protections, one of which would require private insurance companies to cover the costs of abortion care for patients.
Another bill would prevent professional licensing boards and medical malpractice insurers from penalizing health-care providers who perform abortions on people from states where abortion is illegal.
In Virginia — where abortion is legal in the first and second trimesters, and only available in the third trimester if the life or health of the pregnant person is at risk, as certified by three doctors — Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) told conservative activists Tuesday night that he would sign “any bill … to protect life.”
Youngkin previously said he will seek to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy but would be open to a 20-week ban, both of which Democrats in the closely divided General Assembly vowed to fight. But localities in Northern Virginia already are passing measures aimed at helping abortion clinics. The Alexandria City Council passed a resolution Tuesday night that seeks to relax zoning requirements for new abortion clinics in the city.
The motion — unanimously passed after antiabortion activists marched through the council chambers with enlarged photos of dead fetuses — also asks the city manager to set aside funds for abortion services and child health care for low-income residents.
“We can’t pass an ordinance that codifies and protects the right to an abortion,” City Councilman Kirk McPike (D), who drafted the resolution, said in an interview before the vote. But “we are going to do what we can as a city to make that right as accessible as possible.”
The mostly Democratic Fairfax County Board of Supervisors vowed to fight any state legislation seeking to curb reproductive rights in Virginia.
“We’re going to stand up for women, and we’re going to stand up in our legislative package,” Supervisor Kathy L. Smith (D-Sully), her voice choked with emotion, said before the motion was unanimously passed Tuesday.
The motion also included a directive to county staff to compile a list of reproductive health facilities that women can use as a resource.
Prosecutors in Northern Virginia and the District signed on to a pledge saying they will not seek to enforce any abortion bans.
“Enforcing abortion bans runs counter to the obligations and interests we are sworn to uphold,” read the pledge, which was distributed by Fair and Just Prosecution, a national network of elected prosecutors.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has said that the state has laws that protect access to abortion, which he said he would continue to uphold. But before the ruling, Hogan withheld $3.5 million meant to train additional abortion providers after the state legislature earlier this year overrode his veto on a law that expands abortion access in the state.
Baltimore’s City Council approved $300,000 in grants last week to organizations that offer abortion and family-planning services.
So far, Montgomery County has taken the most aggressive stance. The solidly blue county has also begun to see patients coming into local clinics from outside the region.
In addition to the request for abortion-related funding and a refusal to cooperate with out-of-state investigations, Elrich said his administration will bar county employees from traveling on county business to states with antiabortion policies.
The county will also launch an advertising campaign in some of those states directed at employers in industries Montgomery hopes to attract, Elrich said.
“They want to play, we can play,” he said. “Hopefully, we can create some economic hardship for them.”
During a virtual community meeting about the Supreme Court ruling Thursday evening with Montgomery residents, Allie Harper, director of the Potomac Family Planning Center in Rockville, said people from Texas, West Virginia and other states with restrictive abortion laws began showing up to her center shortly after the draft ruling was leaked.
“I don’t know what we’ll do,” Harper said about the expected increased demand. “We can’t just hire staff who can start working the next day. They require a lot of training.”
Residents at that meeting asked whether Maryland doctors could be charged or have records subpoenaed by prosecutors in other states. The doctors at the meeting said they would have to honor a subpoena but were unsure about being held liable for violating an abortion law in another state.
“I’m worried about that now,” said Andrea Desai, an obstetrician-gynecologist in the Baltimore area.
Laura Meyers, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., said facilities in the region need extra resources, whether it be to expand operations or renovate old buildings.
Meyers said low-income women of color and those who live in rural areas with limited health-care access are likely to be the most severely impacted by the Supreme Court ruling.
She noted that in the District, Medicaid recipients are unable under federal law to use that health-care coverage for an abortion.
“There is no question where the burden is going to fall,” she said.
Karina Elwood and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.