Women in the District continue to express outrage over the possibility that the 1973 case, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, could be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court next month.
“I am extremely shocked,” said Vicki Wright-Smith, a former Ward 1 advisory neighborhood commissioner and an attorney practicing in the District. “Frankly, I never saw it coming. The justices really seem bent on overturning Roe v. Wade. I am holding out hope that doesn’t happen because it is not just abortion but other rights that are also at stake.”
In nearby Virginia on May 9, a youth group called Generation Ratify Virginia led a statewide walkout of 45 schools protesting the possible overturning of the landmark legislation. The walkouts lasted for 30 minutes. Student leaders said they will repeat their protest on May 14, WRC-TV (Channel 4) reported.
Like millions of people across the country, Wright-Smith and Generation Ratify Virginia student activists have concerns about whether abortion will remain legal after Politico published a draft opinion circulating through the Supreme Court. Legal experts say the draft doesn’t represent the final decision of the court. However, Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the draft’s authenticity and added it did reflect the court’s view on abortion legality.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a retired constitutional law scholar at the Georgetown University Law Center, said gutting Roe v. Wade spells trouble for District women.
“I am horrified by the Supreme Court’s draft order,” Norton said. “Congress must immediately codify the right to abortion in federal law. The draft order is also a reminder to the country that D.C.’s lack of statehood means D.C. is subject to the whims of Congress. Republicans have repeatedly used D.C. to try to impose policies they cannot or do not have the support to impose nationally. A future Republican Congress may try to ban abortion in D.C., thinking they can get away with it because it would only apply to D.C. residents. They are wrong. We will never allow that to happen.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, speaking at a Planned Parenthood location in Northeast on May 3, said the District counts as a pro-choice city and will fight to remain so, regardless of which party holds the majority in Congress.
Akosua Ali, president of the D.C. branch of the NAACP, said the draft opinion has become public as “reproductive healthcare in D.C. is in a crisis [while] D.C. residents are denied the autonomy to build our own healthcare systems and make our own choices about our bodies.”
Ali said the District has the fifth-worst overall maternal mortality rate in the nation,” she said. “Questioning a woman’s right to choose in 2022 is appalling and abhorrent. The potential of overturning Roe v. Wade should be an awakening for this country and a reminder that our votes matter. Many indifferent or infrequent voters who failed to vote in the midterm must now see the potential impact their votes have. This also reaffirms the need for statehood as a fundamental right to protect the rights of women in the District of Columbia.”
D.C. Council members said they will be proactive in responding to the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade. Council member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) has served as a speaker on behalf of District women at rallies that have taken place in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Northwest.
Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who chairs the Committee on Human Services, has sponsored a bill, The Human Rights Sanctuary Amendment Act of 2022, which would prevent the District from cooperating with investigations in furtherance of proceedings that seek to impose civil or criminal liability for people from other states who come to the city seeking abortions.
Additionally, the bill will protect people from laws that allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps someone get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. The bill would also cover people marrying others of the same sex and gender-affirming healthcare in the District. Nadeau’s legislation has the support of D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Council members Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), Christina Henderson (I-At Large), George, Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Robert White (D-At Large) and Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5).
“With this legislation I am hoping we can solidify the rights of our own residents as well as those who may now be forced to travel here to preserve their own [right to an abortion],” Nadeau said.