America is still in shock following Justice Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion to strike down Roe vs. Wade’s landmark decision to guarantee constitution rights to an abortion. If this majority opinion leads to a formal vote, then the Supreme Court will be providing another example of violations against the most marginalized, something we typically see from leaders of other nations.
Residents of Washington D.C., where I serve as an elected member of Congress without a vote, may think they are safe. But without statehood, Congress could simply ban abortion here too. With Democratic majorities in peril in the midterm elections, it’s a very real possibility.
If this opinion stands, the Supreme Court will endanger the lives of millions of Americans. Recent anti-abortion laws in red states like Texas, Mississippi and Alabama have criminalized female reproductive procedures. These bills target women and specialized medical professionals who train to provide safe abortions. Instead of ending abortions, prohibiting abortion care only leads women to terminating their pregnancies in dangerous ways. According to the Guttmacher Institute, while abortion rates are constant regardless of legal status, women living in areas where abortions are banned die at higher rates. About 10 percent of maternal deaths — about 30,000 per year — are attributed to botched abortions in areas where abortions are illegal.
As a health care provider also serving as an elected official, I understand the importance of firsthand experience in crafting health care legislation. Justice Alito’s opinion has little to do with health care, and everything to do with control. The conservative wing of this country has taken over our highest court, rendering it a weapon of political ideology. Justice Alito’s opinion is just another deviation from the principle of separating church and state. The landmark decisions of Roe v. Wade and subsequently Planned Parenthood v. Casey were never about what a woman should do, but what a woman has a right to do. Banning abortions won’t stop the procedure, only block access to safe procedures.
Unfortunately, exerting control through health care legislation is nothing new. Health and science policy have been weaponized against the most marginalized and politically vulnerable for centuries. Since the 1800s, we’ve denied Black people equitable care, instead forcing them into segregated and often under-resourced medical facilities. More recently, several American states have passed legislation banning gender-affirming care for transgender Americans. Now, we’re witnessing several Supreme Court justices betray precedent, readying to overturn a woman’s right to her own body. These examples have never been about improving laws, but rather opportunities to exert one’s will over the lives of others.
As we continue to fight for those who are oppressed overseas, it’s important to not ignore the maltreatment of those marginalized here in America. As we continue to support the Ukrainians against Vladimir Putin’s invasion, we must keep the pressure on Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to ensure women have the right to access medically safe reproductive care. While we criticize other nations for criminalizing the LBGTQ+ community, we must also push congress to pass the Equality Act to protect their rights of that community here in the United States.
Lastly, as we continue to spread democracy internationally, we must complete our own democracy by making D.C. the fifty-first state. By achieving statehood, the 700,000 residents of our nation’s capital who currently lack a congressional vote, control over our budget and full right to self-govern, will finally have a say on national matters and in the lives of our citizens.
Oye Owolewa is the elected Shadow Representative of Washington D.C. and a practicing pharmacist.