By Jepp Mapes
An initiative that would ban state funding for abortion will appear on the November general election ballot, setting up a battle over the issue in what has been regarded as one of the most pro-choice states in the country.
"It's been a truly monumental effort, lasting six-plus years (and) thousands of volunteers," said Jeff Jimerson, the chief sponsor of the initiative. His grassroots group had failed in the past three election cycles to qualify for the ballot.
Grayson Dempsey, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, called the initiative "out of step with Oregon values" and "we're going to have to fight hard to defeat it."
Jimerson and other anti-abortion activists want to amend the state constitution to prohibit spending state or local public money on the procedure. As a result, the state would no longer be allowed to fund abortions for low-income women.
The measure also would appear to block abortion from being included in taxpayer-funded health insurance plans for public employees.
Congress has long blocked federal funding for abortion, including for women receiving health coverage through Medicaid. Oregon is one of 17 states that provides state funding for abortion and is the only state that has not added any state laws to restrict use of the procedure.
Last year, the Legislature expanded the program to include abortion and other reproductive services for women who are undocumented immigrants.
Backers of abortion rights say they have been preparing for a well-financed campaign to oppose the initiative. They noted that Oregonians have five times voted down initiatives to place new limits on abortions; ballot measures to bar state funding were defeated in 1978 and 1986.
A July poll of 770 Oregon voters by Gravis Marketing, a survey firm in Florida, found that 53 percent opposed a "ban on the ability to obtain an abortion in Oregon." Meanwhile, 32 percent said they'd support such a ban while 15 percent were undecided. The independent poll's margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.
The secretary of state's office announced Aug. 3 that the measure met the required signature threshold by a narrow margin, based on a random sample of 1,000 filed signatures. Officials would have conducted a broader review if the first statistical sample had indicated petitioners didn't get the 117,578 valid signatures needed from registered voters.
Jimerson argued that the measure he helped put on the ballot shouldn't be viewed as infringing on abortion rights.
"This measure doesn't stop anyone from choosing to have an abortion, it simply prevents using public funds to pay for it," he said.
Dempsey said the measure has a much more punitive impact than Jimerson is acknowledging.
"People should recognize that this is certainly an attempt to restrict access to abortion," she said, noting that studies show many women aren't able to obtain an abortion if they run into financial barriers.