Editor’s Note: Here at DCAF, we believe everyone should have access to a full range of reproductive health care, and that includes abortion. When people have the freedom to make decisions that are best for themselves and their families, our communities thrive. On December 19, we expressed our support for the Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019 at a hearing with partner organizations. Below is the statement presented by DCAF’s president, Deepika Srivastava.
Chairman Todd, members of the Committee, my name is Dee Srivastava and I am President of the DC Abortion Fund. I have been a DC resident for nearly a decade, and am proud to call Ward 1 my home. Today, I am here to speak out in support of the Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important issue.
The DC Abortion Fund, or DCAF, is a DC-based 501c(3) that provides about $400,000 annually in financial assistance to people seeking abortion care in the District, Maryland, and Virginia. We also provide referrals to clinics and other resources. In addition to providing financial support and referrals to patients who need abortion care, DCAF also has volunteer-led policy and movement building teams that weigh in on critical legislation like this, to not only bolster our partnerships in the area, but also to advocate for policies that put the needs of our callers first and protect their access to comprehensive reproductive health care.
The DC Abortion Fund is the only local abortion fund serving residents of the District of Columbia. Last year, we screened about 1300 calls from District residents alone — calls from people who cannot afford their abortion largely due to systemic inequities. We commit to meeting our callers where they are, working with them to close their financial gaps, being an empathetic resource, and doing whatever it is we can to get people to their appointments. We have been serving the District and its residents for nearly 25 years, partnering with the city’s incredible abortion providers at Planned Parenthood, independent clinics, and hospitals.
As introduced, this legislation would prohibit the District government from interfering with people’s reproductive health decisions and from imposing punitive measures for self-managed abortion, miscarriage, or other pregnancy outcomes. It would also prohibit employment discrimination against employees and healthcare professionals who would participate in abortion or sterilization procedures. In a world where the social and political climate around abortion care gets ever more hostile, proactive legislation like this is one of the most important ways to affirm that DC residents deserve the right to access abortion, and that no matter what happens, we are committed to protecting that right.
As DC’s local abortion fund, we have seen, firsthand, over and over, what restrictions on DC’s representation and budget autonomy have done to patient access here — including the Dornan Amendment, which renders the District unable to use its own locally raised dollars to cover abortion care for its low-income residents. While this bill won’t be able to do everything that is needed to attain equitable abortion access for all DC residents, it is a key step in the right direction. As we approach the dismantling of abortion access at all levels and branches of government, and live in a world where DC and its residents face a lack of statehood, home rule, and budget autonomy, that step couldn’t come soon enough.
At their core, restrictions on abortion access — whether they’re outright bans on abortion or harmful regulations that lead to clinic closures or the impeding of funds to cover the cost of abortion care– are a form of oppression rooted in power imbalance and exerting control over the autonomy and well-being of people seeking health care. They disproportionately impact communities of color, exacerbating the already-rampant systemic racism in the health care system. They diminish the autonomy and safety largely of our Black, immigrant, LGBTQ, and low-income residents, and those who sit at these intersections.
DCAF is testifying in favor of this legislation because we believe that everyone in DC should be able to access abortion, without burdensome and medically unnecessary restrictions. Organizations like DCAF need to exist because there is a health system that is stacked against our callers, forcing them to jump through hoop after hoop when they should have timely, affordable access to health care. We believe that District residents deserve a health care system that is better than the one we have, where one’s acute access to care is shifted based on where they live and what’s in their wallet, due to differing levels of support and investment in things like access to child care, public transportation, and, of course, funding. We believe no one should fear punishment for a pregnancy outcome or for accessing reproductive health care, because we talk to those who would be most impacted by such punitive measures — people with low incomes and people of color, particularly Black and brown communities. We can and must do better as a society than criminalizing and ostracizing people who seek an abortion. Too often we fail people in this regard, and too often anti-abortion advocates legislate away bodily autonomy for people with low incomes, Black and brown people, queer people, and others who live at the margins.
Abortion funds have to exist because the health system marginalizes abortion care and those who seek it. Often, our opponents justify attacks on abortion access with concepts like safety, compassion, and humanity, but we should be exposing this for what it is — control and manipulation. Safety, compassion, and humanity are important to us, too — but stoking people’s fear with medically inaccurate information or forcibly imposing one’s personal religious beliefs is not how you ensure the safety and wellbeing of all people — protecting and promoting access to compassionate, affirming, person-centered care is. Our commitment to these values is why DCAF supports people seeking abortion from all walks of life. We provide compassionate case management and strive for the transparency, empathy, and resources that our callers deserve as they are navigating a health system that is constantly putting care out of reach. We work with health care providers who have high medical standards, and who value and provide patient-centered health care.
Our callers, and others seeking abortion care, should have the right to autonomy and control in their health and their lives, and we as a community need to be doing more to affirm that right. We need to trust them to make the best decisions for themselves, and to take these rights seriously. By passing this legislation, we can say firmly that we won’t stand for outdated and nonsense laws and policies that jeopardize the public’s health, legislate away bodily autonomy, and endanger communities. We know that the ability to make autonomous decisions about health care helps communities thrive. We strongly encourage the Council to support the Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act.