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Opinion How D.C. is protecting women’s access to health care

Pro-choice protesters on May 4 in front of the Supreme Court. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)
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Brianne K. Nadeau, a Democrat, represents Ward 1 on the D.C. Council.

Last month, I watched with horror as we received a glimpse into the Supreme Court’s draft opinion in Dobbs. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The draft revealed that the court is poised to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion, which was enshrined by Roe v. Wade in 1973.

We are just days away from the announcement of that decision.

I have two daughters, both under the age of 5. I have two sisters and numerous female cousins and nieces. And as a D.C. Council member, I represent tens of thousands of people who are counting on their government to protect their right to whatever health-care intervention they want or need. I do not know what freedoms a post-Roe world will guarantee them.

I remember how proud I was in high school when I joined Planned Parenthood. I didn’t particularly need its services, but I wanted to do my part and support the organization that was defending people’s rights in my home state of Michigan. When those rights came under threat in 2004, I had already been living in D.C. for a couple of years. I had come here to be part of protest, activism and change. It was that April that I joined the March for Women’s Lives along with 1.3 million others and vowed that I would become a public servant to lift up the voices of my neighbors. Two years later, I ran for my Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

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Now, as council member, I’ve been proud to support measures that bolster people’s access to reproductive health care. From co-introducing legislation to protect physicians who support or provide reproductive health care, to championing a landmark law that prohibited D.C. from interfering with reproductive health decisions and from imposing penalties for a self-managed abortion or miscarriage, I have stayed in the fight throughout my time in office.

And on May 6, with the support of all of my colleagues, I introduced the Human Rights Sanctuary Amendment Act of 2022. My proposed legislation would prevent D.C. from cooperating with out-of-state investigations that seek to impose civil or criminal liability for abortion care, the use of contraception and other protected conduct. The bill also allows patients and doctors to bring lawsuits against parties who successfully bring Texas-style bounty claims against them for engaging in protected conduct. This legislation works in tandem with the Enhancing Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2022, recently introduced by Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large), which protects access to self-managed abortion in D.C. It also builds on three bills introduced by Council member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) that require insurance coverage for abortion without cost-sharing and that protect practitioners’ licenses and insurance from attack.

Again, it is up to the states to protect women’s health, but, unfortunately, not all states are created equal. It’s in times like these that we cannot ignore the perilous state of D.C.'s autonomy. With a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, Democratic control of the Senate and White House, and a fierce champion in Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), we have largely had a reprieve from congressional meddling. But we have no idea how long that will last. Without statehood, our laws and liberties are always at risk.

With a unanimous introduction, I’m confident this council will pass my sanctuary law, Henderson’s bill and White’s legislation this year. Starting with hearings on my bill and Henderson’s bill on July 14, we’ll hold hearings to establish the most robust legislative record possible over the summer to help inoculate against court challenges. We can pass emergency versions of the final bill texts unanimously in September and keep passing new emergency and temporary legislation in response to challenges from the right twice a month if the need arises.

And if Congress comes for us, we’ll fight back, just like we always do.

We know that limiting access to abortion has the most profound impact on young people, people of color and people who have the lowest incomes. Access to safe and legal abortion should not depend on what state you live in or whether you are wealthy enough to travel to a state that allows it. Limiting this right will harm those most in need of care. Now is the time to be bold, creative, resilient and brave.