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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.