The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade last month has prompted District lawmakers to sponsor bills that codify a person’s right to have an abortion in the District with governmental penalty and protects them from legal challenges from states that have either outlawed or strictly limited the procedure.
On July 14, D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Government Operations and Facilities, convened a hearing on two bills dealing with abortion. One bill, The Enhancing Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2022, sponsored by Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large), would protect a person’s right to use pills or to self-induce abortion and not penalize their activities.
The second bill, The Human Rights Sanctuary Amendment Act of 2022, sponsored by Council member Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), would allow any District resident sued for termination of pregnancy access by someone from a state with abortion bounty laws to sue in return. Henderson’s bill has nine co-sponsors while Nadeau’s has unanimous support on the council.
White made it clear where he stands regarding abortion access.
“Access to reproductive health care including abortions is a human right,” he said. “It is also a D.C. value. I want to emphasize abortion access is already the law of the land in the District of Columbia. Our laws allow a pregnant person to obtain an abortion at any stage of pregnancy.”
Henderson, Nadeau Discuss Fine Points of Their Bills
Henderson said any person helping someone else or themselves obtain an abortion shouldn’t face legal consequences.
“So, this legislation deals mainly with self-managed abortions,” she said. “And it clarifies that any individual’s act of providing, dispensing, administering or transferring possession of a product used for self-managed abortions should not be penalized.”
Henderson said evidence exists that poor women forced to carry a child to term often find themselves in worse economic situations.
“There was a study that was recently done called the Turner Weiss Study where researchers found women already living in poverty who sought abortions but ultimately had to carry those unwanted pregnancies through fell deeper into poverty experiencing an increase in household poverty lasting four years relative to those who received an abortion,” she said. “With close to 15% of D.C.’s population living in poverty according to the latest census data, the city’s most vulnerable residents will be affected by any future reductions in reproductive care access.”
Nadeau said her bill’s priority will be to protect District residents.
“If this legislation becomes law, the District government will be prohibited from cooperating with investigations attempting to impose liability from everything from receiving an abortion to getting your child gender-affirming care, to living with and marrying the person you love,” Nadeau said. “If you were to be sued under another state’s bounty law, you could sue right back to collect the money you lost in the first lawsuit. And you’d continue to be safe here in the District of Columbia.”
Public Perspectives on the Bills
Washingtonian Josiah Reedy said he doesn’t support either of the proposed bills.
“I’m unabashedly pro-life,” Reedy said. “I believe there is an overwhelming abundance of scientific, historical and moral reasons to protect children who are still in the womb.”
He said Henderson’s bill gives people seeking an abortion in the District a false choice between going to providers such as Planned Parenthood or terminating the pregnancy themselves.
“We can’t say with one breath abortion should take place in a supervised and regulated medical environment and with the next they should be unsupervised and unregulated in people’s homes,” he said.
Reedy said Nadeau’s legislation prohibiting cooperation with other states’ investigations and prosecutions infringes on the rights and consciences, particularly District government employees’ religious liberties.
“Many of these employees would feel banned by duty or by conscience to cooperate with another state’s legal processes,” he said.
However, Ashley Carter, who works as a managing attorney with the D.C. Volunteer Lawyers Project, favors both bills. She said one-in-five women in the U.S. has experienced rape in their lifetime and 2.9 million women have undergone a pregnancy related to sexual violation.
“The bills that are before the council ensure that survivors of domestic violence have meaningful choices when determining whether or not to consider and continue a pregnancy that could place them in serious danger,” Carter said. “And that is particularly true given the negative medical outcomes that can be associated with intimate partner violence.”
The bills will proceed in the legislative process after the council recess which ends on Sept. 20.