WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 51, critical legislation that would grant statehood to the District of Columbia and protect the health and rights of the more than 712,000 D.C. residents. Currently, residents of Washington, D.C. have no voice in the U.S. Senate, and no vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, despite living and working in the United States, paying federal taxes, and serving in the armed forces. D.C.’s lack of statehood means a lack of local autonomy, which results in restrictive policies imposed by Congress, creating barriers to health care, including sexual and reproductive care.
The fight for D.C. statehood is a civil rights issue, and the D.C. government’s current inability to fully govern on behalf of its constituents is rooted in racism. Nearly half of District residents are Black and D.C. would be the first state with a plurality of Black residents. But it’s also a public health and reproductive freedom issue. Congress passes annual legislation prohibiting D.C. from using locally-raised tax dollars to cover abortion for people enrolled in Medicaid, forcing many people with low incomes to pay out-of-pocket for essential health care services. Medicaid is the largest payer of reproductive health care in the country, and because of centuries of systemic racism, people who use Medicaid are disproportionately Black. Likewise, white D.C. residents have a maternal mortality rate of nearly zero, while Black residents suffer a maternal mortality rate so high that the District has a rate worse than all but four states.
Statement from Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
“I am thrilled that the House passed H.R. 51 to grant Washington, D.C. residents the right to participate in our democracy and govern themselves, and thank Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton for her leadership on this issue. The disenfranchisement of more than 712,000 Washingtonians — many of whom are Black and Brown — is unacceptable, and frankly, racist. D.C. residents deserve the ability to control their lives and communities without overzealous members of Congress stonewalling the local legislation that will protect their health and rights, including access to safe, legal abortion. For too long, the health of D.C. residents has been actively harmed by their lack of congressional representation. The Senate must immediately pass this critical legislation to make D.C. our 51st state.”
Statement from Dr. Laura Meyers, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC:
“As the oldest and largest provider of reproductive health services in the region, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC is committed to providing non-judgmental, equitable care for the more than 712,000 individuals who call D.C. home. Yet, because District residents don’t have representation in Congress, lawmakers who don’t know nor care about our community play politics with Washingtonians’ lives, creating real barriers to accessing health care and worsening the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism. D.C. residents, not Congress, must have the autonomy to make decisions about what happens in our city. It is time to give D.C. residents a voice at the table and be placed on equal footing with the rest of the nation.”
Unlike for states, all laws passed by the locally elected D.C. Council and signed by its elected mayor are subject to a 30-day congressional review period, and can be overturned. Congress can also enact federal laws specifically directed at D.C. and its residents. This has very real implications for the health and lives of residents of the District, and it cannot continue. District residents are demanding their rights: 86% of D.C. voters approved a 2016 referendum to seek statehood. Congress must listen. The only way to guarantee the residents of the District of Columbia receive equal representation and control their own destiny is to admit the District as the 51st state.
Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable sexual and reproductive health care for all people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect, and without judgment, striving to create equitable access to health care. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable education and information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that supports the independently incorporated Planned Parenthood affiliates operating health centers across the U.S.