WASHINGTON — Today, Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Dr. Serina Floyd, medical director/vice president of medical affairs at Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC; Akosua Ali, president of the NAACP Washington, DC; and U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14), joined by more than 250 women leaders of color, released an open letter to Congress declaring D.C. statehood an issue of public health and racial equity. The letter, released one week after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, highlights how D.C.’s lack of statehood creates health care disparities and denies District residents reproductive freedom.
“Nearly half of District residents are Black,” the letter states. “If Washington finally became a state, it would be the first state with a plurality of Black residents. Statehood for the District of Columbia is a racial justice issue — and it’s a public health imperative.”
The open letter notes a number of ways in which the District’s lack of autonomy has put its residents’ health at risk. Large proportions of D.C.’s vaccine allotment have gone to federal agencies and to non-residents, while Black residents are going without. Congress regularly denies D.C. residents their reproductive rights by passing annual appropriations bills with riders that prohibit D.C. from using locally-raised tax dollars to cover abortion for people enrolled in D.C. Medicaid, who are disproportionately people of color. The letter also names the Black maternal mortality crisis and lack of local autonomy as further ways that systemic and structural racism has led to health inequities in the District.
“It has always been morally reprehensible to deny the people of Washington, D.C. representation in our democracy. But the triple intersecting crises of COVID-19, systemic racism, and attacks on reproductive health have laid bare the depth of inequity experienced by D.C residents, particularly those of color. People who live in Washington, D.C. are being denied the autonomy to build their own health care systems and make their own choices about their bodies. This is a matter of life and death.”
Co-signers include prominent women of color working toward health and racial equity, such as attorney and television personality Star Jones; political strategists Donna Brazile and Rev. Leah D. Daughtry; Beverly Evans Smith, the 2017-2021 National President CEO for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.; Angela Rye, principal and CEO of IMPACT Strategies; Marcela Howell, president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda; entrepreneur and civic leader E. Faye Williams; Mayra Macias, executive director of the Latino Victory Fund; Juliet Choi, president and Chief Executive Officer of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF); Glynda Carr, president and CEO of the Higher Heights for America PAC; and Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center.
Together, they call on the U.S. Senate to follow the lead of the House, rectify the disenfranchisement of the more than 712,000 D.C. residents, and give them control over their bodies, lives, and futures by passing the Washington, D.C. Admission Act.
Read the entire open letter here and below.
AN OPEN LETTER TO CONGRESS: D.C STATEHOOD IS AN ISSUE OF PUBLIC HEALTH, RACIAL EQUITY
Washington, D.C.’s more than 712,000 residents pay federal taxes, serve in the armed forces, and outnumber the residents of Wyoming or Vermont. Yet, because the District is not a state, Washingtonians are denied the right to representation in Congress. They have no vote on the federal laws and policies that shape their lives. Instead, lawmakers who do not represent Washingtonians use the District’s lack of statehood to play politics with residents’ livelihoods, and with their health.
Nearly half of District residents are Black. If Washington finally became a state, it would be the first state with a plurality of Black residents. Statehood for the District of Columbia is a racial justice issue — and it’s a public health imperative.
As the country works to distribute vaccines and end the COVID-19 pandemic — which has devastated Black and Latino communities with higher infection rates, death rates, and job losses — the District’s lack of autonomy has put residents’ health at risk. Large proportions of D.C.’s vaccine allotment has gone to federal agencies and to non-residents while Black residents are going without. While D.C.’s Black residents have accounted for nearly half of COVID-19 cases and nearly 70% of deaths, they’ve received only 37% of vaccines.
This is not new: Congress passes annual legislation prohibiting D.C. from using locally-raised tax dollars to cover abortion care for people enrolled in Medicaid, forcing many to pay out-of-pocket for this essential health care service. Because of centuries of systemic racism, people who use Medicaid are disproportionately people of color — this D.C. Medicaid policy is part of the long history of denying Black and Brown people and immigrant communities autonomy over their reproductive health.
And reproductive health care in the District is in crisis: While white D.C. residents have a maternal mortality rate of almost zero, Black residents suffer a maternal mortality rate so high that the District has the fifth worst overall rate in the country — more than 50% higher than the national average.
It has always been morally reprehensible to deny the people of Washington, D.C. representation in our democracy. But the triple intersecting crises of COVID-19, systemic racism, and attacks on reproductive health have laid bare the depth of inequity experienced by D.C residents, particularly those of color. People who live in Washington, D.C. are being denied the autonomy to build their own health care systems and make their own choices about their bodies. This is a matter of life and death.
We applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for passing H.R. 51: the Washington, D.C. Admission Act. Now the U.S. Senate must immediately take up and pass the bill and 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.
Founded in 1909 in response to the ongoing violence against Black people around the country, the NAACP is the largest and most pre-eminent civil rights organization in the nation. We have over 2,200 units and branches across the nation, along with well over 2M activists. Our mission is to secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP.
NOTE: The Legal Defense Fund, also referred to as the NAACP-LDF, was founded in 1940 as a part of the NAACP, but separated in 1957 to become a completely separate entity. It is recognized as the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization, and shares our commitment to equal rights.