In more than 30 years of ordained ministry, I have been asked countless times to provide counsel, prayerful support and pastoral care to people making medical decisions. I believe that individuals are the best decision-makers when it comes to their own sacred bodies, in consultation with their health care providers. During those 30 years, I have seen a lot. That's why I'm calling for stronger pro-choice leadership in Oregon than ever before.
I believe in the separation of church and state. Laws which restrict abortion use religious doctrines to remove access to medical services. I believe this is both unconstitutional and unethical. Those who bear the physical responsibility for pregnancies should not bear the undue burden of being forced to carry a pregnancy to term. Every person should be able to decide for themselves whether and when to parent.
The Supreme Court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturns nearly 50 years of legal precedent, has triggered a national health care system emergency. This decision places over 33 million women at risk of losing access to vital reproductive health care. More than half of U.S. states will restrict access to critical care.
Oregon has long been a national leader in expanding reproductive health care and defending the right to choose. Now Oregon must step up to protect reproductive rights for those who have been endangered by the Dobbs ruling.
In 1969, Oregon was one of the first states to legalize abortion, four years before the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Fourteen years later, the Legislature voted to remove many restrictions that accompanied the 1969 law, expanding access for abortion services in Oregon. In 2017, the Legislature took another big step for reproductive rights by passing the Oregon Reproductive Health Equity Act, which expands coverage for folks in need of abortion services including our undocumented neighbors. Oregon's Reproductive Health Equity Act codified the right to an abortion into Oregon state law. But this is not enough.
I remember how terrifying it was for women to seek abortions before Roe v. Wade. We cannot go back. In Idaho, the Dobbs ruling has opened the floodgates for an extremely restrictive, anti-choice trigger law that would criminalize most abortions in their state. Idaho's law is one of many anti-choice "trigger laws" across the country that have been put into effect by this decision.
A recent study from the Guttmacher Institute estimates there will be a 234 percent increase in people traveling to Oregon for an abortion due to the ruling in Dobbs. An analysis in The New York Times indicates that Eastern Oregonians could see a 35% reduction in abortion access, forcing individuals to drive hundreds of miles to the nearest provider in Bend.
During the 2022 legislative session we passed $15 million to support the Reproductive Health Equity Fund. The resources in this fund will be used to build reproductive care infrastructure and workforce in the state to shrink access deserts. In 2017, over 20% of Oregon women lived in counties without direct access to clinics that could perform abortions. This funding is a vital first step towards fulfilling Oregon's commitment to protecting the right to choose and helping to expand services in our rural communities.
I am here to say that Oregon's leadership must continue to build on its legacy of protecting the right to choose by making sure that reproductive health care, including abortion, remains safe and accessible for all. We know that anti-choice extremists won't stop at overturning Roe. In the face of the Supreme Court's dangerous decision, I will always protect what we have here in Oregon.
Sen. Deb Patterson, D-Salem, is chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health Care.
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