DC considering bills to protect abortion access in the city

D.C. Council members on Tuesday heard from the public about two bills they’re considering that would bolster abortion protections in the city.

One of the proposed bills, the Enhancing Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2022, was introduced in March by At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson and would protect access to pill-induced, or self-managed, abortions.

Under the Human Rights Sanctuary Amendment Act of 2022, introduced by Ward 1 Council member Brianne Nadeau in May, any D.C. resident who is sued for providing abortion access to someone from a state with abortion bounty laws could sue in return.

This bill would also allow residents to recoup any money, including attorney’s fees, spent while engaging in protected activities, ranging from providing or receiving abortions to transporting an out-of-state resident to obtain an abortion in D.C.

Both bills come after the Supreme Court last month overturned Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed the right to abortion for nearly 50 years.

During the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting, Dr. Sara Imershein, an abortion care provider in the District, said, “Patients, clinicians, staff and supporters must be clearly protected from legal retaliation.”

Attendee Josiah Reedy opposed both bills, saying of Henderson’s bill, “We can’t say with one breath that abortions should take place in supervised and regulated medical environments, and with the next, that they should be unsupervised and unregulated in people’s homes.”

Reedy also took issue with the sanctuary bill, which would also prevent D.C. residents from supporting interstate abortion investigations spearheaded by those from states where such access is illegal, since abortions will remain legal by D.C. law.

Reedy said this provision would infringe upon the rights of the many government employees who work in the city. “These employees could feel bound, by duty or by conscience, to cooperate with another state’s legal process,” Reedy said.

Members of the public, including some from the city’s medical community, voiced additional concerns.

“In 2019, 68% of the abortions performed in D.C. were for patients who were not District residents,” said Dr. Tamika Auguste, chair of MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s Women and Infant Services. As abortion is banned in more states, she predicted, “There will be a wave of abortion seekers that will look for access in the District of Columbia because the city plans to continue allowing abortion access to all who need and want it.”

Auguste said they have been bracing for “a strain on our reproductive health delivery infrastructure.”

Melissa Wasser, policy council with the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C., said that while they support the sanctuary bill, they have some concerns about its wording.

“The [new section] of this bill creates a private right of action under D.C. law, intending to address the harms resulting from out-of-state judgments,” Wasser said. “We are concerned that the provision of the legislation may be open to constitutional challenges based on the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution, which requires recognition and enforcement of out-of-state judgments.”

Both bills are currently listed as “under council review,” according to legislation details.

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