Notes from lobbying on the Hill

by Phoebe Suh

This past Thursday, as summer policy research interns at NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, Jo, Priya, and I traveled to Capitol Hill to lobby in favor of the Women’s Health Protection Act (S. 1645/H.R. 2975), also known as WHPA. And we were not alone — over 100 young activists marched up the Hill and into Congressional offices on June 13th as part of an event called Young Advocates for Abortion Access. Organized by Platform, a nonprofit dedicated to training and mobilizing young feminists, the event brought together advocates for reproductive freedom from the DC area with the purpose of persuading our U.S. Representatives to co-sponsor WHPA. These activists represented a coalition of over 100 pro-choice organizations with millions of supporters across the United States, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, and the NAACP.

The Women’s Health Protection Act, authored by Rep. Judy Chu from California and Senator Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, establishes as federal law that health care providers have a right to perform, and that patients have a right to receive, abortion services free of harmful, medically unnecessary restrictions, such as 24-hour waiting periods, state-required informed consent protocols (based upon medically inaccurate information), mandatory ultrasounds, and bans on early and later abortion care. This right is, of course, old news: Roe v. Wade established in 1973 that every individual in the United States has a right to safe, legal abortion. But many states have elected to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision and the spirit in which it was decided, enacting laws designed to delay and obstruct access to abortion care with the ultimate goal of preventing as many patients as possible from obtaining the reproductive healthcare they need. Many states have recently passed laws banning abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can appear as early as six weeks after the pregnant individual’s last menstrual period. These extreme bans were designed to take on the Roe decision head on, instead of continuing years of legislation and legal challenges to chip away our rights until we have none.

When pregnant individuals cannot exercise their right to safe, legal abortion care, they are forced to choose between carrying to term or engage in actions to end their pregnancies, risking serious injury, infertility, or death.

These restrictions have created a national healthcare crisis. When pregnant individuals cannot exercise their right to safe, legal abortion care, they are forced to choose between carrying to term or engage in actions to end their pregnancies, risking serious injury, infertility, or death. Denied medical care, many choose the latter. This crisis significantly affects the most vulnerable in our communities that experience discrimination based on class, race, and sexuality just as much as gender: low-income, LGBTQ+, and racial minority populations are disproportionately impacted by efforts to restrict access to abortion care.

The purpose of the Women’s Health Protection Act is to counter these restrictions and to protect a pregnant individual’s right to choose by establishing an enforceable national standard concerning access to abortion care services. In essence, it holds states accountable in a way that Roe v. Wade alone cannot, ensuring that reproductive healthcare is legal, accessible, and equal across the country.

In preparation for the meetings with Congressional offices, Young Advocates for Abortion Access kicked off the night before with a training in the community space at The Outrage, a feminist-apparel store in DC that partners with resistance movements such as the Women’s March and Black Lives Matter. Organizers from Platform gave a presentation on lobbying and on WHPA in a room full of young activists and framed, feminist posters, before sorting us into teams of five to ten people assigned to visit a list of Congressional staff.

The next morning, we congregated in the cafeteria inside the Rayburn Congressional Office Building, armed with folders of information and buttons promoting reproductive freedom. The teams split off into different corridors after a quick practice run, each taking on representatives from a different state. Priya and I met with staffers from the offices of Rep. Josh Gottheimer, Rep. Tom Malinowski, Rep. Frank Pallone, and Rep. Jeff Van Drew, four Democratic representatives from New Jersey. Jo was assigned to the Massachusetts team, visiting the offices of Rep. Stephen Lynch and Rep. Richard Neal.

We weren’t there to have a dialogue — we were there to present our case, ask for the representative’s co-sponsorship, and hope for the best.

Lobbying congressional offices felt like how I imagine speed dating would be. Each meeting lasted fifteen minutes at most, and two out of the four I attended took place in the hallway because there were too many of us to fit in the office. We weren’t there to have a dialogue — we were there to present our case, ask for the representative’s co-sponsorship, and hope for the best. And because we were speaking with staffers, rather than the representatives themselves, “the best” meant a hearty “maybe” and a promise to send information about WHPA up the ladder of authority.

That being said, all of the meetings Priya and I attended went very well! We stumbled our talking points at first, but all of the staffers were incredibly friendly and patient — they knew that many of us, Priya and I included, had never lobbied before. By the end of the day, we could present our case ad lib, drawing connections tailored to the priorities of each representative. Young Advocates for Abortion Access was a great way to introduce young activists to the lobbying process and to give us a chance to practice our advocacy skills.

Though the meetings had all concluded by 1:00 p.m., I hope that their impact will last much longer. WHPA is essential to protecting and delivering the rights guaranteed to pregnant individuals by Roe v. Wade. It is integral to the future of reproductive freedom in this country. Most of all, WHPA is the next step on the path to reproductive justice — the next step to equality of reproductive healthcare across our country. I hope that Congress will agree.

The political leader of the pro-choice movement in Maryland.

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