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The Agony and the Ecstasy: Reproductive Rights on Capitol Hill

Even in the midst of this moment of deep appreciation and cheer, a certain darkness pervades.
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April 13, 2011

We Won The Big Fight For Planned Parenthood! There is cause for celebration! The President of the United States and the Senate Majority Leader were unwavering in their support and stood strong against a hard push by extremists in the House who tried to deny Planned Parenthood any and all federal funding.

It came down to the wire but Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama did not falter. As a result of their steadfastness, the support of dozens of senators and members of the House pro-choice caucus — and especially YOU — millions of men and women will continue to have access to basic health care services including family planning and life-saving screenings for breast and cervical cancer. This tremendous victory is a testament to the power of voices — our voices — raised against extremists. This is a moment to savor, when President Obama said, simply and emphatically, “No” to abortion opponents.

The fight isn’t over, of course. There will be votes tomorrow on funding for Planned Parenthood before final passage of the spending bill. But the extremists don’t appear to have the votes in the Senate so we’re in good shape, thanks to our champions.

Yet even in the midst of this moment of deep appreciation and cheer, a certain darkness pervades because our champions allowed those same extremists to take away D.C’s autonomy and ability to provide its residents with access to abortion.

Yes, last Friday, abortion access for D.C. women was traded away, like a prized baseball card. In order to reach consensus on the fiscal year 2011 spending bill, the House of Representatives, Senate and White House agreed to stop the District of Columbia from using its own locally raised funds to provide abortion services to low-income women enrolled in Medicaid.

It’s agonizing to see so starkly the disregard with which D.C. residents, especially women, are held by our nation’s leaders. Through this abortion ban, non-residents are imposing their own ideology, morality or religious belief upon the District’s residents and disregarding the needs or wishes of the broader community or those directly impacted. It didn’t seem to matter to anyone that those who agreed to reinstate the abortion ban and negate the will of the District’s residents and elected leaders aren’t accountable to the people of the District. That which they could not do in their own home districts and states, they did with impunity against the residents of the District.

This is particularly egregious because other states are permitted to use non-federal revenues to pay for abortion care, yet Congress prevents the District from doing the same. In fact, 17 states, under the Medicaid program, currently use their own, non-federal funds to provide coverage for medically necessary abortions. Congress doesn’t tell New York, California or Arizona how to spend their local tax dollars and it should not do so with the District.

So while we celebrate, we also fume. Such is the agony and the ecstasy of reproductive rights on Capitol Hill.

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